President Donald Trump is set to speak today to discuss his administration’s plan to separate air control traffic from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and hand its operations to a private, non-profit corporation to cut costs and fast-track innovation.
The FAA at present operates the air control traffic. The FAA serves as the civil aviation arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FAA currently manages more than 50,000 flights per day. Its traffic controllers have also led one of the world’s safest aviation programs.
It may have a clean record, but critics have also pointed out its outdated “WWII-era radar technology” and the process of still physically passing paper strips with an individual’s aircraft information and flight plan from controller to controller. Many in Washington, D.C. have said that FAA’s supposed NextGen program to introduce digital communications and GPS systems to replace decades-old technology in a complex airspace has been excruciatingly slow.
The major airlines and the controller’s union agree that the lack of progress in air traffic control is due to government shutdowns, controller furloughs, and reliance on government funding. Privatizing the system, supporters say, will bring in innovation and efficiency. Trump’s plan is also expected to eliminate tax dollars in favor of user fees.
Supporters of the move also say that the timing is good as a comprehensive investment that also includes air traffic control would be a boost to the Trump administration which is looking for a legislative victory. Such action on the air control traffic system is also being seen as consistent with Trump’s agenda that has vowed to use private money to solve the nation’s aging infrastructure challenges.
Its opponents are, however, doubtful of big airline control and the disruptions of changing such a major system. The general aviation community also has concerns about their place in the would be a new scheme of things where they assume big airlines will hold the most power. They also worry about possible high user fees that they feel will create an industry dominated by big airlines that can afford high costs, and “leaving small businesses and towns behind.
Major domestic carriers, though, support the privatization moves, except for Delta Air Lines.