President Trump pushes for privatizing US air traffic control

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In the first salvo in a week-long push to overhaul America's infrastructure, President Donald Trump on Monday announced a plan to privatize the nation's air traffic control system. Trump said the current air traffic control system was developed in a time when approximately 100,000 people were traveling through airports each year, but that that number is now approaching one billion.

This time is different, said a White House official, because the stars have aligned with Republicans in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

"Today we're preposing to take American air travel into the future, finally, finally", said Trump.

The proposal comes as the White House launches a string of high-profile events this week aimed at ramping up support for Trump's infrastructure initiative. That plan included $200 billion to spur private partnerships in infrastructure but also makes $144 billion worth of cuts to existing federal infrastructure programs, including the elimination of the TIGER program, an Obama-era program to fund mass transit programs.

The air traffic controllers' union is generally supportive of the proposal, as they see the current FAA air traffic control system as somewhat inefficient.

White House officials told reporters that Trump's leadership on the issue "unifies the nature of the politics" in Congress and could help erode opposition to the plan on Capitol Hill.

Numerous delays owe to the fact that the FAA is at the mercy of the federal budget cycle and congressional squabbles. On the campaign trail, Trump touted plans to improve the country's aging roads, bridges and airports.

"We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the air traffic control (ATC) reform legislation so we can evaluate whether it satisfies our Union's principles, including protecting the rights and benefits of the ATC workforce", president Paul Rinaldi said in a statement.

Kelly, seated across from Trump, pitched the president on the idea of creating a nonprofit group to handle air traffic control.

At a briefing for infrastructure reporters on Saturday, Trump's Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn said that spinning off air traffic control from the FAA would be an "enormous benefit" for all US businesses and would improve safety by separating ATC functions from the safety regulator at the FAA. Progressive Democrats in the House have proposed an even bolder, more profligate infrastructure spending proposal to overshadow Trump.

Ticket prices essentially would be equalized at first, but they might decrease over time, he said.

Officials told reporters they made a decision to kick the campaign off with air traffic control reform because Shuster already had a comprehensive package put together, saying it seemed like "naturally low-hanging fruit".

Democrats have largely opposed the changes, warning that the proposed board overseeing the estimated 300 air traffic facilities and around 30,000 employees would be dominated by airline interests. The FAA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The plan was never voted on by the House of Representatives, but would have a better chance of passing once it's endorsed by Trump.

A group that represents small airports and leaders in rural communities also spoke out against the proposal, saying it fears that smaller airports would be neglected or ignored under a privatized system and that fees would rise.

"President Trump was correct on the campaign trail: America's airports are woefully outdated and in need of major investment", Burke said. Most airlines back the plan.

"The public would not be well-served exempting any part of the FAA from annual congressional oversight", said a letter from Senate Appropriations chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Transportation Subcommittee chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine.

But at a congressional hearing earlier this year, Democratic lawmakers pointed to customer service horror stories at the nation's privately-held airlines, such as the passenger that was dragged off a United Airlines flight and massive computer problems that grounded thousands of flights.

"It is unfathomable, even unsafe, to consider gambling with the future and safety of our air traffic control system through privatization", PASS President Mike Perrone said in a statement last month.

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