NASHVILLE — Just days after signing a US$110 million deal to purchase Southern Air Holdings, William J. Flynn, president and CEO of Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, made the odd choice of focusing on the state of air traffic control in the United States as the main topic of his keynote address at the CNS Partnership Conference. Chiefly, he focused the speech on his support of the passage of a bill in the U.S. Congress that would reform the nation’s air traffic control (ATC) system.
Flynn mentioned briefly how his fleet had grown to nearly 80 aircraft following the Southern Air purchase and that Atlas had recently been a part of The Rolling Stones’ historic first concert in the nation of Cuba. For the massive concert, Atlas lifted 97 tonnes of equipment from Mexico to Havana, making it the first commercial charter of its kind. Last year, he added, Atlas flew 214,000 block hours, took on almost 1,000 charters and made nearly 40,000 flights.
But for most of his address, Flynn called for action from the attendees in the crowd. “Historically, Tennessee has been the volunteer state,” he said. “I ask you to take up that challenge to volunteer your time to serve your industry.”
Specifically, he asked those in the audience to contact their U.S. Representative in support of H.R. 4441, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), the chair of the House’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The proposed legislation, Flynn said, would create an independent, not-for-profit corporation that would not be part of the federal government and would modernize what he called an “antiquated air traffic control system,” based on “World War II-era” radar technology.
“Our nation’s aviation system has not kept pace with the rest of the industry,” Flynn said in his address. The problems caused by the national ATC system cost the country about $30 billion in delays and rampant inefficiency, he said. As a result, even some short routes are taking twice as long as they should to complete. “A trip from Reagan National in Washington, D.C., to LaGuardia used to take less than an hour,” he said. “Now it takes about 90 minutes.”
In addition to time delays, the extra time on the taxiways and tarmacs burn about 10 to 15 percent more fuel, creating more greenhouse gas emissions and adversely affect the supply chain and the environment. Because the proposed entity would be outside the federal government, it would not be subject to sequestration efforts that have plagued the current system for nearly a decade.
“Between 2007 and 2012 the FAA has had to be shut down during debate over 23 separate authorization extensions, lasting anywhere from one week to six months at a time,” he said. The AIRR Act would reauthorize the FAA for at least six years, while the ATC corporation would be governed by a board representing the aviation system’s users and the public, according to Rep. Shuster, who has called the passage of H.R. 4441 one of his “highest priorities.”