On Thursday, President Donald Trump told airline and airport executives that he is interested in privatizing the air traffic control system in the United States, and in improving the nation’s airports and roads, which he called obsolete. The newly-elected US president also promised to roll back government regulations and said he will announce a plan in the next three weeks to reduce taxes on businesses.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told Trump the best way to help airlines would be to “modernize the air traffic control system.”, but Trump complained that money spent on the system has not improved it.
“I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack,” Trump said.
Some airline executives and Republicans in Congress have proposed the privatization of air traffic control because they say the FAA has moved too slowly on modernization and would benefit by being removed from the uncertain congressional budget process. Other lawmakers oppose reducing Congress’ oversight of aviation, and business and private aircraft owners worry their costs will go up.
“Trump was extraordinarily positive”, when airline executives urged him to spin off air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration and place them under the control of a private, non-profit corporation, said Nick Calio, president of Airlines for America.
While Trump supports modernizing the air traffic system, he did not explicitly endorse privatization, said Kevin Burke, president of Airports Council International-North America.
In 2016, Republican congressman Bill Shuster, chairman of the House transportation committee, introduced legislation to privatize the system. The bill stalled, however, after running into opposition from other top lawmakers and business-jet owners, who fear that the private corporation’s board would be dominated by airlines, and that they would lose access to larger airports and pay a larger share of the system’s costs.
The privatization effort has support from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, although other FAA unions are opposed. FAA officials maintain that they have made significant progress over the past 10 years of the modernization effort, and that airlines have begun to reap the benefits of those changes.
Trump, who once ran his own airline, pledged to help the airlines deliver “the greatest service” with minimum delays and at the lowest cost. He compared infrastructure in the United States unfavorably with other countries.
“Our airports used to be the best, now they’re at the bottom of the rung,” he said. “We have an obsolete plane system, we have obsolete airports, we have obsolete trains, we have bad roads. We’re going to change all of that.”