Donald Trump: Privatize air-traffic ops

Judith Bessette
Junho 20, 2017

"Today we are going to take American air travel into the future - finally".

Trump was surrounded by members of Congress as he signed a decision memo and a letter to lawmakers outlining his principles for the air traffic control plan. "After billions and billions of tax dollars spent and many years of delays, we are still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated awful system that doesn't work", Trump said.

If the GOP's plan becomes a reality, the air-traffic control system would be removed from the auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration and turned into a nongovernmental nonprofit, with a board of directors including representatives for airlines, regulators and consumer advocates.

However, opponents caution that the proposal, which would require congressional approval, will give too much power to the aviation industries.

The FAA spends almost $10 billion a year on air traffic control, paid for largely through passenger user fees, and has spent more than $7.5 billion on next-generation air traffic control reforms in recent years.

House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster proposed the ATC spin-off in a failed bill last year, and he reintroduced the proposal this year.

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The privatization idea isn't new: The airline industry has been pushing for it since the 1980s, and the Clinton administration proposed a similar privatization scheme to Trump's in 1994. Democrats, on the other hand, believe that the public would best be served by funneling more money into the existing structure in a concentrated to modernize the system. The remaining 5 would be filled by 4 top executives from big airlines and a union executive.

Airlines have been lobbying vigorously for the change, saying the FAA's NextGen program to modernize the air traffic system is taking too long and has produced too few benefits. "Committee Democrats are working on targeted reforms to help speed up the FAA's modernization efforts without privatizing the system".

Critics of the plan have also questioned the White House's assertion that the plan will make passengers safer, pointing to the airlines' history of computer system failures and the risk that goes along with adopting a complex new satellite system.

USA airlines have been campaigning for decades to separate air traffic control operations from the FAA and have also argued that FAA efforts to modernize the air traffic system is taking too long and has produced too few benefits. "And then you get to the Senate, and they have pretty much said, 'We are not interested in this'".

The White House said that the new structure, which would be financed by tariffs on air tickets, would enable the transition to the use of Global Positioning System technology - instead of radar - to coordinate the country's air traffic control, a move that it said would create more direct routes.

"Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans", Moran says.

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