Photo: Bill Carey
US President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal calls for privatising US air traffic control starting in 2021, a move that has been advocated by the bulk of the US commercial aviation industry.
The proposal, released by the White House on 23 May, would move ATC out of the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration, placing it under a “non-profit, non-governmental entity”.
Such a move would better “accommodate growing air traffic volume and meet the demands of aviation users,” says Trump’s proposal.
“This transformative undertaking will create an innovative corporation that can more nimbly respond to the demand for air traffic services, all while reducing taxes and government spending,” it says.
That language, particularly use of the word “transformative”, harkens directly to language used by commercial aviation executives and their lobbyists, who for several years have advocated exactly the type of change Trump’s budget proposes.
They have argued independence would free ATC from reliance on uncertain and short-term funding, enabling it to implement ATC improvements.
Airline trade group Airlines for America was quick to commend Trump.
“The president’s leadership on air traffic control reform will ultimately reduce federal spending, shrink the size of the federal government and reduce taxes for passengers,” says the group’s chief executive Nicholas Calio in a media release. “The president has taken a bold step.”
Most US airlines have supported ATC privatisation, though Delta Air Lines has opposed it – a break that factored into Delta’s exit from membership in Airlines for America in 2015.
Delta has said privatisation would not address underlying factors that cause congestion, such as the geographic proximity of US airports, and it has advocated collaboration with the FAA.
Opposition has also come from some Democratic lawmakers, including Peter DeFazio, a ranking member of the House transportation committee.
Privatisation would increase the federal deficit, slow modernisation, restrict air access at small communities and negatively impact groups like general aviation users and air cargo companies, says DeFazio in recent statements.
But transportation committee chair, Republic Bill Shuster, has supported the industry’s efforts, introducing a bill in 2016 that would have privatised ATC, but which later stalled in Congress.
Trump’s budget documents cite Shuster’s bill, calling it “an excellent starting point that would successfully separate air traffic control from the rest of the FAA”.
The system laid out in Trump’s proposal would be run by a board composed of airspace users, and be funded by users, documents say.
Trump’s budget would reduce the FAA’s spending caps by $70 billion and cut aviation excise taxes by $116 billion between 2021 and 2017, according to budget documents.