Trump: Privatizing Air Traffic Control System Will Make Flights 'Quicker, Safer, and More Reliable'

By Melanie Arter | June 5, 2017 | 3:13pm EDT
President Donald Trump with Transportaton Secretary Elaine Chao (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

( - President Donald Trump announced Monday his proposal to privatize the air traffic control system (ATC), saying the current system is outdated and was designed when there were roughly 100,000 people traveling by air each year, compared to nearly 1 billion annually now.

A new modernized system run by a non-profit non-governmental entity without taxpayer funding will result in "reduced wait times, increased route efficiency, and far fewer delays," the president said.

"Our plan will get you where you need to go more quickly, more reliably, more affordably, and yes, for the first time in a long time - on time. We will launch this air travel revolution by modernizing the outdated system of air traffic control," Trump said.

"Since the early days of commercial air service, the federal government has owned and operated the United States Air Traffic Control System. Yet, more than a half a century later, the government is still using much of the exact same outdated technology. 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 any more, they can't even fix anymore, and many controllers must use slips of paper to track our thousands and thousands of planes that are up in the air," he said.

The current air traffic control system can't keep up with the growing number of travelers, he said, causing "flight delays and crippling inefficiencies."

"The FAA has been trying to upgrade our nation's air traffic control system for a long period of years, but after billions and billions of tax dollars spent and the many years of delays, we are still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn't work. Other than that, it's quite good," the president joked.

He pointed out that the Obama administration spent more than $7 billion in an attempt to upgrade the air traffic control system "and totally failed."

"Honestly, they didn't know what the hell they were doing - a total waste of money - $7 billion plus, plus. It's time to join the future. That is why I'm proposing new principles to Congress for air traffic control reform, making flights quicker, safer, and more reliable. Crucially, these reforms are supported by air traffic controllers themselves. They're the ones that know they systems that they want. They know it better than anybody," the president said.

The president explained that by putting the air traffic control system in the hands of the non-governmental entity, the Federal Aviation Administration will be able to focus on safety. The new ATC system will be accountable to the FAA.

"At its core, our new plan will dramatically improve America's air traffic control system by turning it over to a self-financing non-profit organization. This new entity will not need taxpayer money, which is very shocking when people hear that. They don't hear that too often. Under this new plan, the Federal Aviation Administration will focus firmly on what it does best - safety. A separate non-profit entity would be charged with ensuring route efficiency, timely service, and awaited reduction in delays. Our plan will also maintain support for rural communities and small airports, including airfields used by our air National Guard Units," he said.

The new ATC system must be fully and financial self-sufficient and will collect user fees to cover operational costs and recapitalization. This will replace the aviation taxes that currently cover these costs. The aviation taxes should be sunset, except for those necessary to fund the Airport Improvement Program, according to the White House. General fund revenues will fund the rest of the FAA.

So far, over 50 countries have already successfully transitioned their ATC operations.

The president said under his plan, air traffic controllers will have "financial security, professional opportunity, and far superior equipment." He said other ATC systems are "very good" and that the United States' new ATC system will "top it by a lot."

"Dozens of countries have already made similar changes with terrific results, and we're going to top them actually by a long shot. Canada, as an example, modernized their air traffic control through a non-governmental organization about 20 years ago, and they have cut costs significantly, adopted cutting edge technology and handled 50 percent more traffic, and actually far more than that on a relative basis compared to us," he said.

The president noted, however, that Canada, "modernized their air traffic control through a non-governmental organization about 20 years ago, and they have cut costs significantly, adopted cutting edge technology and handled 50 percent more traffic, and actually far more than that on a relative basis compared to us."

"Our incredible air traffic controllers keep us safe everyday, even though they are forced to use this badly outdated system. That is why we want to give them access to capital markets and investors, so they can obtain the best, newest, and safest technology available, and by the way, the new technology is incredible. If we adopt these changes, Americans can look forward to cheaper, faster, and safer travel, a future where 20 percent of a ticket price doesn't go to the government, and where you don't have to sit on a tarmac or circle for hours and hours over an airport, which is very dangerous also, before you land," he said.

"A modern air traffic control system will make life better for all Americans who travel, ship, or fly. It will reduce costs and increase convenience for every American consumer, and these new efficiencies will produce a huge economic boost for the country and for the 1 in 14 American jobs that aviation supports. Today we are taking the first important step to clearing the runway for more jobs, lower prices, and much, much, much better transportation," the president said.

The White House said by privatizing the ATC system, it is goes with the president's philosophy of reducing the size of government, because the plan will reduce taxes and lower the burden on taxpayers. It also enhances safety and national security and allows for the "expedited use of technology."

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