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Trump has a Plan to Privatize Air Traffic Control

Trump has a Plan to Privatize Air Traffic Control

“The current system can not keep up and hasn’t been able to keep up for many years.”

President Donald Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao have a plan to make air travel better: privative air traffic control. From CNN Money:

“We live in a modern age, but our air traffic control system is stuck, painfully, in the past,” he said at a White House event attended by current and former transportation department officials. “Americans can look forward to cheaper, faster and safer travel.”

He argued that moving the system to a private non-profit corporation will help speed up the shift from using land-based radar to using more precise GPS tools. Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the change would also reduce costs and fuel consumption for airlines.

“The current system can not keep up and hasn’t been able to keep up for many years,” Trump said. “At a time when every passenger has GPS technology in their pockets, our air traffic control system still runs on radar and ground-based radio systems that they don’t even make anymore. Many controllers must use slips of paper to track our thousands and thousands of flights.”

Support From Airlines

Most airlines have supported this idea. Back in February, Trump sat down with executives from America’s major airlines, but a comment from Southwest Airlines chief Gary Kelly stuck with him. From Dallas News:

Southwest chief Gary Kelly sparked that conversation at a White House meeting, bemoaning an aging system that contributes to congestion at major airports. Many airlines, though not all, have been pushing the U.S. to “privatize” the air traffic control system.

Though Trump didn’t commit to any specific proposals, he appeared intrigued by what Kelly described as the “single biggest opportunity for aviation.”

Kelly, seated across from Trump, pitched the president on the idea of creating a nonprofit group to handle air traffic control. That idea has received push back from Delta and a coalition of general aviation interests, including private pilot groups and rural airports.

Bloomberg reported that other airlines want to work with Trump to bring air travel to the future. From Bloomberg:

American Airlines Group Inc., the world’s largest carrier, said it looked forward to working with the Trump administration “to make air travel cleaner, safer and more efficient.”

“The antiquated system we rely on today is inefficient and causes thousands of avoidable flight delays,” Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for American, said in an emailed statement. “If we aren’t able to modernize and innovate using the latest technology, the impacts to the traveling public will continue to grow.”

The Plan

Trump decided to roll with Kelly’s idea of a non-proft group to handle the policy. From Reuters:

In a summary document released by the White House, the Trump administration proposes a three-year transition period to shift oversight of air traffic control.

The proposal says a board made up of airline, union and airport officials would oversee the non-profit entity. The new entity should honor existing labor agreements but controllers would no longer be federal employees.

The Federal Aviation Administration spends nearly $10 billion a year on air traffic control funded largely through passenger user fees, and has about 28,000 air traffic control personnel.

This board will include “13 members: Two would represent the airlines, two would represent unions, one would represent general aviation, one would represent airports and two would represent the government as a whole. Then those members, along with the board’s CEO, would select four independent members.”

This will remove “30,000 FAA employees from the federal payroll.” The FAA will maintain responsibility for safety oversight.

However, even though the employees will not be on the federal payroll, the ideas on the plan stressed that this “new entity ‘should honor existing labor agreements,’ with current FAA employees allowed to keep their federal retirement and healthcare benefits — an issue that is crucial to winning the support of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.”

Opposition from Democrats

To no one’s shock, Democrats in Congress have come out against privatizing air traffic control. After all, it’s one less thing for the government to control. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) insists that going this way will “increase the deficit and diminish safety,” according to Bloomberg:

“There is no consensus on this short-sighted privatization proposal,” DeFazio, of Oregon, said. “Committee Democrats are working on targeted reforms to help speed up the FAA’s modernization efforts without privatizing the system. We hope these reforms will be bipartisan.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also lashed out at the plan, insisting in a statement that the president “was recycling ‘a tired Republican plan that both sides of the aisle have rejected’ and would hand control of one of our nation’s most important public assets to special interests and the big airlines.'”


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Democrats don’t trust people?

A reasonable compromise would be to return authority to the people with government audits to ensure uniform performance in areas of critical importance.

As a private pilot, I have been used to obtaining Air Traffic Control services free.
For private aviation, use of the ATC services is very often optional. It provides one with some improved safety, improves access to busier airports, and in the event of an emergency enables more rapid location.
However, use of ATC is only required when flying by instrument rules (IFR), enhancing safety for commercial aircraft flying the same routes.
The problem is cost. There will be a tendency for private pilots to avoid use of ATC services, when there is a charge involved, leading many to cut corners on safety. Not only will the private pilot be less safe, but so will be everyone else in the same airspace.

It doesn’t sound awful, but remember the classical fascist economics model…


Unions (or A union) and


Couple that with the “non-profit” thing, and it could be another slush fund for cronies/unseated pols.

We’ll see…

    rscalzo in reply to Ragspierre. | June 6, 2017 at 8:36 am

    If the union power was limited, it would work. Odd that the unions are backing the plan and the Democrats are against it. Unions are their bread and butter.

The limiting factor for airline traffic is the lack of runways, not ATC. When an airliner is ready to take off, they have to wait until “flow control” make a slot for them at the destination airport. ATC delays have nothing to do with ATC.