The airline industry has undergone many changes over the last decade, with a strong focus on security as well as safety. The issue of whether or not to privatize the air traffic controllers industry has been part of a larger dialogue about airline safety for years. In view of the recent incidents, highly publicized, of air traffic controllers falling asleep while on duty, leaving pilots to land their aircraft using their own expertise and without the support of the controllers, the whole matter of privatization and whether or not that would lead to a more competent work force is likely to surface again. This paper will discuss various aspects of potential privatization of the industry, and will support the reasons that I believe that it would be a significant mistake, since privatization of many other industries has shown time and time again that when the profit motive is introduced into a work environment, decisions are often made that compromise safety in order to increase profits for the corporation.
In the past, there was a general belief that a large part of the government’s responsibility should be to oversee the most important industries in a national economy. The argument for privatization maintains that it would result in reduced costs, higher-quality services, and a rise in innovations in government-controlled industries that have been stagnant for years (Edwards, 2009.) Supporters of privatization maintain that because the air traffic control system has been in trouble for years, privatizing the system could result in upgrading the equipment, streamlining procedures, and more efficiently confronting the problems that have overburdened the industry for years by introducing fresh thinkers and new perspectives (Treanor , 1998.)
When one recalls the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, there were many acts of professionalism and heroism that day, and certainly included in that group were the government professionals who were tasked with bringing all 5000 planes that were in US airspace safely down to the ground. Within two hours of receiving the never- before experienced order to clear the skies over the United States of all aircraft, air traffic controllers had succeeded in landing a fleet of planes carrying as many as 500,000 people, all the while maintaining their calm and working at a feverish pace with a remarkably successful result (Don’t Privatize Air Traffic Control, 2002.)
Despite that remarkable record, there are many legitimate arguments made to privatize the industry, as well as arguments to the opposite point of view. One argument in favor of making the change is that the current system is based on antiquated circumstances: during the days before radar, air traffic controllers were needed to manage planes traveling along paths that were lit by fire beacons. Obviously, technology has advanced to a great extent so that GPS systems are utilized in most advanced countries, allowing airlines to negotiate their own paths, as in the recent cases when the air controllers were asleep at the wheel and the pilots navigated their own landings. The result of these technological advances are more direct flights, less fuel usage, and as a result, fewer emissions of greenhouse gases (Murphy, 2011.)
However, when industries are privatized, companies can submit their proposals and the company that gets the contract is often the one that has offered the lowest bid. Would the American flying public really feel safer knowing that the company that is responsible for managing air traffic controllers is the one that came in with the lowest numbers? Our air traffic control system is considered to be the best in the world, (Why Air Traffic Control Privatization Is Bad for Aviation Safety, 2006.), but it is difficult to imagine that delegating it out to the lowest bidder would not result in paying a tremendous cost regarding safety. Other industries, such as prisons, juvenile facilities, and the food processing industry have all been featured in the news in recent years following their privatization, and their subsequent harmful practices resulting in illness and in the worst case scenarios, death. The profit motive results in cutting corners in a way that frequently compromises consumer safety, in my opinion.