Air Traffic Control Modernization and Reform

U.S. airlines account for 5 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. This statistic is particularly impressive given that, across much of the country, our aircraft continue to fly with 1950s air traffic infrastructure components. While these components are still safe, the aging infrastructure was not designed to accommodate advancements that we are seeing throughout the industry.

Technology that is commonplace in other areas of our lives, such as global positioning system (GPS), is not fully utilized in our aircraft due to a long-term lack of investment in the FAA’s modernization initiative, called the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).

Upgrading the infrastructure allows airlines to build more efficient networks, which saves air travelers time and reduces aviation’s environmental impact. Satellite-based navigation and aircraft tracking will greatly reduce the maintenance costs for the system as a whole, saving taxpayers money in the long run. Most importantly, these upgrades will enhance the safety of our system.

Unless continued investment in air traffic control modernization continues, future demands will jeopardize the high degree of safety and reliability that Americans rely on for transportation and shipment of cargo. The lack of investment has come in several forms: chronic underfunding of multiyear projects and unreliable federal authorizations.

As a result of these ongoing challenges, considerable discussion has ensued on how to best address the lack of consistent, reliable funding that enables the ATC upgrades to keep pace with the demands.


  • Federal revenues raised through user fees or taxes on aviation should be dedicated to aviation.
  • NextGen investments and funding for FAA should be provided guaranteed funding for multiyear projects.
  • Appreciating the challenges inherent in modernization, ALPA believes a different construct for ATC could provide system efficiencies and operations benefits if implemented safely and according to certain characteristics. These should include, as a minimum, the following:
    • The ATC system economic model should be a not-for-profit entity. The financing method of that entity should be fair and equitable based on use of the system and take into account commercial aviation’s benefit to the nation’s economy.
    • Funding for the ATC system must ensure that reliable, predictable, and sufficient long-term funding is available for the sustained development and continuous modernization of an extremely complex system.
    • To ensure safety and optimal operability, the ATC system governance should be structured in a way that includes involvement in decision making by operators of the system: pilots and controllers; ALPA and NATCA.
    • The ATC system must be agile enough to adapt to technological advancement in a timely manner and robust enough to ensure that thorough, timely safety analyses of key programs and procedures are completed.
    • The ATC system must ensure staffing is sufficient to maintain safe operations in any airspace or airport used by air carriers and other aviation system users.
    • Any shift in responsibilities for providing ATC services from a government agency to another not-for-profit model (e.g., private, corporate, or federal corporation) must not disrupt or disturb the employer-employee relationship in an adverse way. Any shift must continue to provide a stable and secure working environment for all employees of the agency, including the continuity of the collective bargaining relationships and processes for the employees represented.

Download ALPA's Position Paper