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Billie Ruff of Travel Cafe

Billie Ruff of Travel Cafe in Billings.

A delayed flight, a missed connection — it’s a problem most of us have encountered. And often the result is a day-long layover, a ruined vacation or a postponed meeting. It’s extremely frustrating, and it’s a problem that’s getting worse. Especially in a rural state like Montana, with limited flight options, even a small flight delay can be disastrous for travel plans.

Over the past several decades, commercial flights have become more accessible, and more and more Americans are flying both for work and for leisure. But this increase in air travel has caused a strain on our system, leading to more delays and missed flights. Today, as many as half of flight delays are the result of a congested air traffic control system. It’s a system that’s kept our skies safe for decades, but increased demand is bogging it down, and it’s time to give it an update.

Air traffic control is a complex system, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to safely space planes moving from one airport to the next. Dozens of countries around the world have reformed their air traffic control systems with excellent results, and although the United States handles far greater traffic than these countries, we have not yet moved our system into the 21st century. Reforming air traffic control and giving it the high-tech tools it needs will make flying faster and more efficient for all of us.

That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass the bipartisan proposal that they are considering now, which would create a new, not-for-profit organization to manage air traffic control in the United States and update much of the flight-tracking technology across the country, while leaving safety regulation in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration, where it belongs.

The 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act will keep the parts of our system that are working well, such as FAA safety oversight, fix the parts that need work, and save money in the process. By creating a more efficient system that cuts down on flight delays, more flight options can be available for travelers, creating a better, smoother flying experience for all Americans.

Taking air traffic control out of the political arena just makes sense. Under the new proposal, safety will still be regulated by the FAA, but air traffic control will be independent of the political process, and won’t be subject to budget fights and government shutdowns, which only add to the problems facing the over-stressed system. This bipartisan group of lawmakers are focused on legislation that includes all stakeholders’ input, maintains parity on the governing board, protects access to airspace, services and airports, and maintains sustainability of funding for small airports.

Montanans will benefit from a system that gains efficiencies, whether it’s more flight choices in and out of our state, or some relief in airline ticket prices due to more competition. The bottom line is this: it’s time for a change.

Billie J. Ruff is president and chief executive officer of Travel Cafe, which has offices in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula.

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