(Adds detail about traffic control system)
By Alwyn Scott
MIAMI, June 7 (Reuters) - The U.S. air traffic control system is likely to be restructured to resemble Canada’s system, and the change could happen quickly, the head of the U.S. airline trade group said on Sunday.
We wouldn’t “cookie cutter” the Canadian system, known as NAV Canada, said Nick Calio, president of Airlines for America. “But that’s the best-operated system out there.”
Overhaul of the U.S. system operated by the Federal Aviation Administration is being considered as part of a reauthorization of the government agency due for a vote in Congress by Sept. 30.
A temporary extension of FAA authorization is likely to be needed to work out changes to the U.S. system, but it wouldn’t be a lengthy delay, Calio told Reuters on the sidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) global airline conference in Miami.
Support has been building in Congress for a “transformative” FAA reauthorization that would shift ownership of the traffic control system away from the U.S. agency that oversees U.S air safety.
Calio said it is likely that the U.S. will turn over the FAA’s system to operation by a nonprofit commercial entity, as Canada has. Other proposals call for a separate government agency to run the system.
Industry sources said that Congress is aiming to have a bill marked up in June that would include a change in the system structure to resemble Canada‘s.
“They’re pretty far along in their thinking,” Calio said of the congressional committee leading the efforts.
The U.S. traffic control system also is being overhauled to replaced outdated 1950s technology and improve airline operations. The changes are far behind schedule, and have caused frustration for airlines.
Calio wouldn’t say if there were sufficient votes for transforming the U.S. ownership structure. “It’s going to take a massive education effort,” he said.
“If there needs to be a delay or an extension in order to get transformational change accomplished, that’s a far different situation than people arguing over funding, slots and other things,” he said. (Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Victoria Bryan)