The Dulles International Airport Air Traffic Control tower.
President Trump announced Monday a plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system — a move that would remove the job of tracking and guiding airplanes from the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration.
“Today we’re proposing to take American air travel into the future, finally,” Trump said.
The nation’s air traffic control system was designed when far fewer people flew, Trump said, calling it “stuck, painfully, in the past.” He also called the system “ancient, broken, antiquated” and “horrible” and said his reforms would make it safer and more reliable.
The FAA has worked to upgrade its system, but Trump and other critics say it was taking far too long. “Honestly, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” Trump said. “A total waste of money.”
Privatization of air traffic control is an idea long supported by most of the commercial airlines. Executives from those companies joined the president at the White House to announce the plan.
Guided by legislation that has been proposed in the past by House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster, a private, nonprofit corporation would be created to operate, manage and control air traffic control nationwide, similar to what Canada does. The FAA would still have some oversight capacity, but a board made up mostly of representatives of the major airlines would govern this corporation.
The air traffic controllers’ union is generally supportive of the proposal, as it sees the current FAA air traffic control system as somewhat inefficient. The Shuster plan would still allow for the controllers to be part of the union.
The FAA says it has modernized in recent years by updating its computers and other systems. Administrator Michael Huerta told an industry conference in March that the agency has made “tremendous progress,” per The Associated Press.
But some groups have been critical of efforts to privatize air traffic control operations, saying it gives the airlines too much control over the system for their own benefit.
The group Flyers’ Rights calls it the “creation of an airline controlled corporate monopoly.” It also says privatizing air traffic control amounts to “handing the airlines (for free) control over a core public asset, and providing them nearly unbridled power to extract new fees and increased taxes from passengers.”
Trump has been critical in the past of the FAA and air traffic control, saying his personal pilot has complained about how out of date and inefficient the agency is.
Trump’s plan to privatize air traffic control operations will likely be included in legislation reauthorizing the FAA. The Senate Transportation Committee will discuss the proposal on Wednesday, with Trump’s Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao testifying. Chao will again address the issue before the House Transportation Committee on Thursday.
This plan is part of Trump’s broader infrastructure vision. He may also talk more broadly Monday about what he has called “third world airports” in particular, as he launches what the White House is calling the president’s “infrastructure week.”
Trump will be in Cincinnati on Wednesday to continue talking about infrastructure, focusing on inland waterways on the Ohio River including aging dams.