New direction calls for independent, non-profit air traffic control co-op.
Calls to privatize air traffic control may be answered, as President Donald Trump now wants ATC operations removed from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In a 10-minute speech from the White House, the president set in motion the process of moving control towers and employees into a non-profit organization.
“We’re proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays,” Trump told the invited guests. “Our plan will get you where you need to go more quickly, more reliably, more affordably – and yes, for the first time in a long time, on time.”
Without providing any concrete details, Trump spoke vaguely about researching other countries’ private air traffic control systems in order to create an improved system in the United States. Citing Canada as an example, the president claimed a privatized system bid to one single organization could improve on-time departures and arrivals, reduce wait times and lower air travel costs.
The president also took shots at the FAA NextGen program, a modernization program piloted under the Obama administration. Trump declared the program cost $7 billion dollars and “totally failed.” Noting the difference in his proposal, Trump declared that a privatized ATC system would allow access to capital markets and investors, without reliance on tax dollars.
“If we adopt these changes, Americans can look forward to cheaper, faster and safer travel: A future where 20 percent of a ticket price does not go to the government and where you don’t have to sit on a tarmac or circle for hours and hours over an airport,” Trump claimed. “Dozens of countries have already made similar changes with terrific results, and we’re going to top them […] by a long shot.”
Joined by three previous Department of Transportation secretaries on stage, current secretary Elaine Chao took the podium after Trump to add comments. In prepared remarks, the secretary focused on improvements in the passenger experience through privatizing ATC operations.
“How many times have we heard families on vacation, working moms and dads who are trying to get home, students flying home from college, can’t always depend on the current system to get them where they want to go on time?” Chao asked. “Separating air traffic control from the red tape and budget uncertainties of the current system will end the cycle of delay and disruption that has not served them well.”
Immediately, airline advocacy group Airlines for America praised the president’s announcement, calling their plan “bold leadership.” The group claims flight delays put a $25 billion burden on the economy, which they tied directly to the current “antiquated ATC systems.”
“Our nation’s infrastructure in the sky is a vital part of our economy, and the demand for air services in the United States is growing,” A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio said in a press release. “Today’s White House announcement puts consumers first – ahead of the status quo.”
Although none of the four major American carriers have yet released a statement about the president’s announcement, airlines and pilot unions have previously offered comments on privatization. In 2015, both the Allied Pilots Association and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association placed their support for air traffic control privatization. Delta Air Lines came out against the plan, going so far to commission their own report against privatization.
While legislation has not been introduced to the current Congress, a bill could come in the weeks ahead. In 2015, Republican Rep. Bill Schuster of Pennsylvania outlined a similar plan that was ultimately rolled into the failed AIRR Act. Congressional Democrats have not issued a formal response to today’s comments, but Schuster’s 2015 plan was denounced by Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Rick Larsen of Washington, with DeFazio calling it “a monopoly that picks winners and losers and decides routes, schedules, and slots based on profit margins.”