Published: Tue, June 06, 2017
U.S. | By Eddie Scott

Trump proposes privatizing air traffic control

Trump proposes privatizing air traffic control

"We live in a modern age yet our air traffic control system is stuck, painfully, in the past", Trump said, noting the FAA had been working to upgrade the system for years. Critics had charged the proposal previous year gave too much power to airlines. "Since the early days of commercial air service, the federal government has owned and operated the US air traffic control system; yet, more than a half a century later, the government is still using much of the same outdated technology", Trump said.

Proposals to shift air traffic system to a non-profit corporation are being closely examined with more than 150 stakeholder meetings and hearings, he said.

"Traffic controllers have been doing a great job keeping us safe in the air", Lawson said.

At a meeting with reporters, White House officials said that the initiative will create a more efficient system. Both sides of the privatization debate say the system is among the most complex and safest in the world. He and other opponents have pointed out that the USA has by far the largest air traffic control system in the world, and there's little guidance on how this would play out on such a huge scale. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents the FAA's 14,000 controllers, also backed the move to privatize.

The businessman-turned-president's push to privatize the system came as the airline industry and regulators have managed an extensive period of safety in the skies - there hasn't been a fatal crash of a domestic airliner in the eight years.

Airlines contend the FAA's NextGen program to modernize the air traffic system is taking too long and has produced too few benefits.

The proposed technology changes include moving from the current system based on radar and voice communications to one based on satellite navigation and digital communications.

The proposal to privatize the air traffic control system will encounter major hurdles in Congress where Democrats and some Republicans oppose it. Trump has frequently said that ongoing modernization efforts were already obsolete.

Union officials have complained that the FAA has been unable to resolve chronic controller understaffing at some of the nation's busiest facilities and pointed to the modernization effort's slow progress.

Meanwhile, multiple efforts by Congress to reform the ATC have, in the words of the Department of Transportation's inspector general, "not achieved the expected cost and productivity outcomes".

Airlines in the USA have campaigned to separate the FAA. and ATC for two decades, but the proposal still has to pass muster with Democrats.

Trump wants the system to become a non-profit organization funded by fees from aircraft using the system instead of taxation on aviation fuel and airline tickets.

The new nonprofit would be funded through a series of user-based fees that would take the place of tax-based revenue used now to fund air traffic control operations.

Business aircraft operators, private pilots and non-hub airports have also expressed concerns they may need to pay more and get less service under a private corporation even though airlines have promised that won't happen. But airlines have said this will not happen.

President Donald Trump speaks during the Ford's Theatre Annual Gala at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, Sunday, June 4, 2017.

Trump unveiled the proposal in the White House's East Room alongside a number of airline executives, Vice President Pence, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) - a chief congressional supporter of the plan.

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