Kansas Based Company Providing Air Traffic Control & Airfield Management in Central/SW Asia

Overland Park, Kansas – On Monday, September 26, 2005 a Russian built Antonov 124 (AN 124), arrived at Kansas City International Airport to pick up a mobile air traffic control tower for transport to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Midwest ATC, the first private sector contractor to provide air traffic control and airfield management support services at U.S. bases throughout Southwest Asia is again proving its value to the Air Traffic Control System by providing mobile air traffic control facilities to augment those already in use in Afghanistan.

In 2003, in an unprecedented government outsourcing initiative to relieve critical military resources, the Commander, United States Central Command Air Forces selected the Air Force Contract Augmentation Program (AFCAP) and Midwest ATC to provide a full range of air traffic management capabilities at air bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, two bases in Afghanistan, and regional management activities in Qatar. Midwest is providing all personnel, supervision, logistical support, and other capabilities necessary to plan and provide all the aforementioned services at the various locations. In addition to its radar approach control, tower and airfield management services, in July this year, Midwest ATC established non-radar Air Control Center (ACC) services for Afghanistan operating out of a Regional Flight Information Center at Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan, also an unprecedented accomplishment.

Midwest ATC is a subcontractor to Readiness Management Support (RMS) under AFCAP and is the first contractor outside of the Department of Defense (DoD) or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that has ever been selected to provide tower, radar control and airfield management in a forward deployed operating environment.

“This most recent exemplary performance by Midwest ATC getting personnel in-place, on schedule and within budget is yet another example of the “can do” attitude continually demonstrated by this world class air traffic control service provider over the past four years in meeting AFCAP short notice, difficult requirements on critical DoD projects,” said Jim Mitchell, Director of Operations, of Readiness Management Support. “RMS provides services to any U.S. Government agency in contingency scenarios and this latest accomplishment by Midwest ATC coupled with its past work is crucial to our efforts on behalf of the U.S. government and in support of “Operation Enduring Freedom” – the war on terrorism,” he said.

Midwest ATC, headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas has been a leader in promoting and providing air traffic control services and systems since 1978. The company specializes in air traffic control, weather reporting, radio/navigational aid maintenance, air traffic control tower construction for fixed and mobile control towers. Midwest currently provides air traffic services in over 84 communities across the U.S., including several in Kansas and Missouri. They also have operations in seven other countries around the world.

So What’s the Deal with Air Traffic Control Reform?

So What’s the Deal with Air Traffic Control Reform?

THE FIRST PART of President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan took flight Monday when the president called for the privatization of the country’s air traffic control system. “We’re still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work,” Trump said of the current air traffic control organization run by the FAA. “Other than that, it’s quite good.”

Flights are delayed and flying sucks, the president argued, and the best way to change that is to take the responsibility for managing airspace away from the bureaucrats at the Federal Aviation Administration and hand it over to a private nonprofit organization. Such a plan won’t cost taxpayers a dime, he said, and will improve efficiency.

This idea dates to the 1970s, but has never gotten anywhere. Representative Bill Shuster, the Republican chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, brought it back last year, but his legislation stalled in the Senate. But the White House is confident it can push it through this time. It’s also a test drive for the administration’s larger embrace of public-private partnerships. “Shuster did a really good job of pulling together a package and having that ready to go,” said D.J. Gribbin, an infrastructure policy specialist on the White House National Economic Council.

Although airlines generally love the idea, not everyone believes privatization is a smart move. Let’s break it down.

What is Trump suggesting?

Trump wants to hand over the nation’s air traffic control infrastructure to a private, nonprofit entity with its own board made up of airlines, unions, airports, and federal officials (like a real company!). The administration has not offered a lot of details on how this might work, but promises the change would not increase costs or decrease safety. The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations’ international air navigation body, has said an “autonomous authority”—like a separate air traffic control organization—in charge of its own finances and management could modernize more quickly, increasing safety overall.

The FAA would oversee this new nonprofit entity, which would be funded through user fees—like takeoff and landing charges—instead of the excise taxes on passenger tickets and fuel that currently fund the country’s aviation system. Moving air traffic controllers from the FAA to this new organization would take about three years, the Trump administration estimates.

Why would anyone want this?

Some people don’t! (More on them later.) But the Trump administration says revamping air traffic control would increase efficiency, reducing delays and other snafus. The reform is necessary, it argues, because modernization efforts have stalled even as the number of American travelers has ballooned to 700 million a year. And a dysfunctional Congress has not helped: Between government shutdowns and uneven funding patterns, reform proponents argue the FAA can’t count on the money needed to make changes.

Has this worked for other places?

Yes. In at least fifty other nations, including the UK, Canada, and New Zealand, privatization or partial privatization has largely succeeded, with a 2009 study finding more efficient flights and fewer delays. But there have been some hiccups, and a bunch of open questions. The UK government had to bail out its air traffic control organization when the airline industry took a hit after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. And a US government study that examined six nations that had made the switch “concluded that this change in safety oversight required a culture shift that was difficult and also requires strong data collection and quality-control procedures.” Remember, too, that the American air traffic control system is very big—big league, even. So it’s hard to compare other countries’ experiences with what could happen in the US. The White House and FAA will have to be careful, calculating, and deliberate while setting up this other body, and that will not be not easy-peasy.

What does this mean for me?

This is not entirely clear. The Trump administration has touted reduced delays, but it’s hard to blame delays solely on the FAA or air traffic control operations. First, bad weather is a thing. And airlines themselves contribute mightily to the problem with late crews, overbooking, and system-wide computer glitches (hello, Delta). Researchers say smart logistical fixes, like changing how planes queue up when departing, could alleviate delays.

That’s not to say privatization won’t help the situation. Newer tech could help fight congestion—and thus flight delays, too.

Who’s into the reform?

Most big airlines are very cool with this, as are small government folks. (Delta is the exception, arguing the move will hike ticket prices and distract from air traffic control modernization work.) The air traffic controllers union is also mostly on board.

Who hates it?

All of this makes rural airports, communities, small airlines, and general aviation enthusiasts nervous. Most worry about new user fees, which could place a larger burden on smaller operators who don’t enjoy economies of scale. A small survey released in February by a coalition of these stakeholders found that 55 percent of American voters “are currently very pleased with the performance of the FAA and see no reason to privatize it.”

Congressional Democrats also aren’t too jazzed with the idea. “Selling off our air traffic control system threatens passenger safety, undermines the FAA’s ongoing modernization, jeopardizes access to rural airports, and adds to the deficit,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi.

Uh, what do air traffic controllers do anyway?

The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization employs about 6,000 technicians and 14,500 air traffic controllers who run the country’s airport towers and terminal areas. These guys and gals direct aircraft through American airspace from their perches on the ground. “These people are artisans—they really are,” says Sid McGuirk, a former air traffic controller who now a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

It’s true that the air traffic control system is due for an upgrade. (At Monday’s White House announcement, Shuster waved the paper “flight progress strips” that controllers still use to keep track of planes in the air.)

Fortunately, the FAA has been working on a $35 billion one for nearly 15 years. The NextGen system would nix radar-based aircraft tracking in favor of GPS, controllers’ voice commands for digital ones, and would phase in more advanced flight planning software. (Many major airlines have started this transition.) The updates would allow airlines to plan more direct and faster routes. They would also make the whole air traffic control system more efficient. The target date for the changes is 2030, but the NextGen program has missed key deadlines for years now. Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence could eliminate many of the more routine elements of the job. “The closer we get to AI, the more likely it is that machines will do the normal day to day operations, and people will monitor and intervene,” says McGuirk.

Which is all to say: Whatever happens with this White House push, the air traffic controllers’ jobs will look very different in a decade or two.


Outcry Increases Against A Private Air Traffic Control Monopoly

The House bill containing provisions that could remove air traffic control from the FAA’s auspices and hand it over to an airline-controlled private monopoly may have lost some momentum in Congress recently, with an expected House vote delayed for now. But as opposition to the bill builds, it does so in the face of relentless efforts every day by powerful congressional leaders and the Trump administration to force a favorable vote from reluctant rank-and-file lawmakers.

As the debate churns in the Capitol, thousands of pilots have contacted their elected representatives to demand that they not gamble with the future of the ATC system. Many of those pilots have posted their opinions on social networks, and have shared AOPA’s and other news reports of the growing resistance with their friends.

“AOPA, pilots across the country, and a majority of Americans agree—air traffic control privatization is a bad idea,” said AOPA President Mark Baker after the expected scheduling of the vote on the bill failed to materialize.

In the last several weeks, AOPA has sent out three call-to-action alerts, notifying members of the existential threat to general aviation that an airline-controlled ATC system represents, and members have responded in highly motivated fashion. (If you haven’t yet contacted your member of Congress to urge that he or she oppose ATC privatization, AOPA has created an advocacy page to make it easy for you to do so. You can also call 855/383-7330 to learn more about the issue and be connected to your representative after entering your zip code.)

The groundswell has brought outspoken opposition from members of Congress; criticism of the plan from the governor of a GA-friendly state far from the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.; and a notable panningby Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, hero of the “Miracle on the Hudson” river landing.

Facebook has lived up to its calling as a robust forum for sharing news and views. As one of hundreds of posts to the AOPA Facebook page put it in defense of ATC, “It’s working—keep your hands off of it.”

The fact that “it’s working” tends to get lost in the ideological assaults providing some of the impetus for privatization. Inaccurate depictions of the state of ATC as administered by the FAA also have clouded the dialogue.  According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, for example, 80 percent of system delays trace back to the airlines, and weather, neither of which H.R. 2997 would affect.

Rhetoric about the ATC system aside, there are three critical points to keep in mind about the privatization proposal included in H.R. 2997, said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs.

  • Privatization in this case is really a euphemism for monopolization. The ATC system would be handed over to an airline-dominated private entity facing no competition to keep it focused on operating efficiently as an entity controlled by an industry that— lest we forget—has been marred by more than occasional bankruptcies of some of its major players, and plagued by some famously havoc-wreaking computer-system failuresthat paralyzed air transportation for hours or days at a time.
  • Accountability would be negligible. Congressional oversight would be severely curtailed, leaving Congress’s hands tied to act on noise complaints, new flight routes, deteriorating service, or denials of access to other users of the public’s airspace.
  • In countries where ATC operations have been removedfrom direct government oversight, we have seen a decline in GA, Coon said.

Sullenberger raised his concerns in an interview with Yahoo News. “In most countries, it’s either too restrictive or too expensive for an average person to fly, and the only way you can go is on an airliner or a military flight,” he said, noting that the freedom to fly “is something that we need to protect and preserve. So why in the world would we give the keys to the kingdom to the largest airlines? Because they definitely have their own agenda—to lower their costs.”

AOPA shared with Twitter users the strong stand against ATC monopolization taken by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who contacted the chairs and ranking members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and its aviation subcommittee, to oppose putting “the busiest and safest airspace in the world” under private control “without sufficient preparation and understanding” of the impact on GA and other stakeholders.

Within a key House committee, H.R. 2997’s ATC provision was met with deep skepticism on fiscal grounds. The House Ways and Means Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) wrote to the committee chair, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) objecting to the plan’s effect of shifting jurisdiction over $14 billion in air transportation excise taxes “to a private board”—one of several repercussions that “will impact jobs all over the country.”

In addition to the many hundreds of Facebook posts, responses, and shares AOPA’s reporting on the issue has generated between early June and mid-July, AOPA received approximately 145 direct contacts from members who telephoned or emailed the Pilot Information Center. Their contacts included requesting more information, encouraging AOPA’s opposition to the proposal, offering rebuttals to statements by proponents, and sharing messages they had sent to members of Congress, and the Trump administration.

One member who described himself as an avid backer of the president nevertheless informed him in an email that, “This is a very rare case where many of your supporters will disagree with you, certainly ALL of those in General Aviation.”

Another member didn’t mince words when summarizing what members expect AOPA to be doing to counter the proposal.

“He says we better dig in our heels and oppose this ATC privatization proposal or he’s going sailing,” noted the Pilot Information Center staffer who took the call.

AOPA has heard members’ voices loud and clear, said Coon, and the association is working daily to persuade and educate policymakers about the riskiness and unintended consequences privatization could impose on an air traffic system that is larger than all others, and second to none in safety and service delivery.

“No one should underestimate the threat general aviation faces from this,” he said. “This fight is real, and it is serious.”