US airlines and airports have welcomed US president Donald Trump’s support to modernise the country’s aviation infrastructure, although it is not immediately clear how the administration will proceed next.
Air traffic control reform, airport improvements and taxation were among the topics covered during a meeting between Trump and several airline and airport executives earlier today.
Airline and airport executives reacted positively afterwards to the meeting, but also indicated that no major decisions were made during the gathering, which they characterised as more of a general discussion about the industry.
“We are grateful to president Trump for hosting this meeting and were encouraged by his in-depth understanding of our industry and the need to reform our air traffic control system,” says Nicholas Calio, the president and chief executive of US airline trade association Airlines for America (A4A).
Trump appeared to show support for modernisation of the US ATC system, saying during the meeting: “I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack.”
But it is not immediately clear what approach Trump favours when it comes to modernising ATC. A4A’s members – which are the majority of US passenger carriers – are in favour of stripping the US Federal Aviation Administration of its ATC functions, and moving them to an independent, non-profit structure.
Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) president and chief executive Kevin Burke told reporters that Trump did not endorse privatising ATC. Rather he focused his questions on modernisation of the ATC system.
Both Calio and Burke attended the meeting, along with chief executives from airlines including Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Air Group and JetBlue Airways, as well as executives from several airports.
Delta, which opposes removing the ATC function from the FAA, says the meeting with Trump was a “positive discussion”. The airline, which left A4A partly due to disagreement on the issue, did not touch on ATC reform in its statement.
“We had a positive discussion about many of the major issues facing US travellers, airline employees and the aviation industry, which is a vital economic engine for America,” says Delta chief executive Ed Bastian in the statement.
During the meeting, Trump reiterated the need to improve US airports, calling them “obsolete”. “We are going to change all of that. You are going to be so happy with Trump,” he says.
However, it is not clear how the Trump administration plans to modernise the country’s airports. While he campaigned with a proposal to invest $1 trillion in infrastructure, few details have emerged since then on how this will take place.
ACI-NA’s Burke says the airport group is proposing that the US government eliminate a cap on the passenger facility charge (PFC), to allow airports to raise funds for improvements.
But Trump appeared less than enthusiastic about raising airport fees, acknowledge those who attended the meeting.
Asked if Trump had specified how airports would be modernised without raising charges, Burke says: “Not really… He said he would get the money… He obviously wants to rebuild airports but he wasn’t very specific about where he would get the money.”
A4A has steadily opposed any efforts to raise caps for PFCs, saying that airports have adequate funding and that raising charges will curtail air travel. “While the airports want an increase on the passenger facility charge, the president stated that he does not like fees,” says the airline association.
The meeting between Trump and the aviation executives did not touch on the controversial issues of alleged subsidies to three Gulf carriers, Norwegian or the Trump administration’s travel restrictions, say attendees.
Burke says airports will meet with the Trump administration again in two to three months for a more detailed discussion on airport modernisation. Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly told CNBC after the meeting that A4A will continue working with the Trump administration in the coming months: “I’m sure we will have some committee assignments and get to work on that punch list.”