Air Traffic Control: Preliminary Observations on Commercialized Air Navigation Service Providers Page: 2 of 26
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Highlights of GAO-05-542T, a testimony
before the Subcommittee on Aviation,
Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure, House of Representatives
Why GAO Did This Study
In the past, governments worldwide
owned, operated, and regulated air
navigation services, viewing air
traffic control as a governmental
function. But as nations faced
increasing financial strains, many
governments decided to shift the
responsibility to an independent air
navigation service provider (ANSP)
that operates along commercial lines.
As of March 2005, 38 nations
worldwide had commercialized their
air navigation services, fundamentally
shifting the operational and financial
responsibility for providing these
services from the national
government to an independent
GAO selected five ANSPs-in
Australia, Canada, Germany, New
Zealand, and the United Kingdom-to
examine characteristics and
experiences of commercialized air
navigation services. These ANSPs
used different ownership structures
and varied in terms of their size,
amount of air traffic handled, and
complexity of their airspace.
This testimony, which is based on
ongoing work, addresses the
following questions: (1) What are
common characteristics of
commercialized ANSPs? (2) What do
available data show about how the
safety, cost, and efficiency of air
navigation services have changed
since commercialization? (3) What
are some initial observations that can
be made about the commercialization
of air navigation services?
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Gerald L.
Dillingham, (202) 512-2834,
AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL
Preliminary Observations on
Commercialized Air Navigation Service
What GAO Found
The five commercialized ANSPs that GAO selected for review have a number
of common characteristics: Each operates as a business, making and
carrying out its own strategic, operational, and financial decisions. Each
generates and manages its own revenue to cover its costs, charging fees to
users and borrowing funds from private markets instead of relying on annual
governmental appropriations. Each has also put commercial financial and
performance data systems in place. All five ANSPs have retained safety as
their primary goal, and each is subject to some external safety regulation.
Each ANSP is largely a monopoly provider of air navigation services and
undergoes some form of economic review or follows some guidelines for
The ANSPs report that, since commercialization, each has maintained safety,
controlled costs, and improved efficiency. Data from all five indicate that
safety has not eroded. For example, data from New Zealand and Canada
show fewer incidents involving loss of separation (the required distance
between an aircraft and another object). All five ANSPs have taken steps,
such as consolidating facilities, to control their operating costs. Finally, all
five ANSPs have invested in new technologies that the ANSPs say have
lowered their costs by increasing controllers' productivity and produced
operating efficiencies, such as fewer or shorter delays. Such measures have
generally resulted in lower fees for major carriers, but some smaller,
formerly subsidized users now pay new or higher fees and are concerned
about future costs and service.
GAO's work to date suggests a number of observations about
commercialized ANSPs: A contingency fund can help an ANSP cover its
costs without greatly increasing user fees during an economic decline;
economic regulation by an independent third party can ensure that an ANSP
sets prices fairly; providing a forum for stakeholders gives attention to their
needs; and special measures may be necessary to reconcile the inability of
some users to pay the full costs of services at some small communities and
the ANSP's need to recover its costs.
Size and Scope of Five Commercialized ANSPs Reviewed
unty ANSP name ANSP ownership Emploees handled (year)
Australia Airservices Australia Government corporation 2,900 2,723,828
Canada NAV CANADA Private company 5,400 6,000,000
Germany Deutsche Rugsicherung GrrbH Govemment corporation 5,400 2,720,000
New Zealand Airways Corporation of New Government corporation 680 1,004,161
Zealand, Ltd. (2004)
United Kingdom National AirTraffic Systemn Ltd. Publioprivate 3,758 2,000,000
Source: GAO presentation of data from ANSPs.
United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Air Traffic Control: Preliminary Observations on Commercialized Air Navigation Service Providers, text, April 20, 2005; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc292551/m1/2/: accessed March 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.