In a White House meeting on February 9, President Donald Trump told airline and airport leaders he would upgrade aviation infrastructure and reduce regulations in the industry, and offered supportive words for a proposal to spin off air traffic control from government direction.
Trump blasted the technology in use by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic control system and asked questions about the idea of spinning off the system from FAA’s control. But while the FAA’s so-called NextGen program to modernize air navigation has seen a number of unexpected costs and delays, President Trump he stopped short of endorsing a proposal to spin the air traffic operations into an independent entity.
The measure is opposed by Democrats who attacked it as “privatization” that would undercut a unionized federal workforce, and by some rural Republicans who worried that small, non-commercial aviation would be steamrolled by an airline-dominated non-profit board. The House committee has already begun discussing the next FAA reauthorization bill, which must be enacted by Sept. 30 to avoid a lapse in authorization. The proposal to spin the air traffic operations into a separate entity will likely remain on the table.
Trump said he would find ways to fund airport infrastructure improvements, but was vague about how he would do so. The president also appeared unenthusiastic about raising the federal cap on passenger facilities charges — fees on air travel that are funneled back into airports where the ticketed flights take off — that airports support.
Still, the airport representatives said they were encouraged by the meeting. They noted that Trump referred to fees rather than taxes, a phrasing that airport representatives said shows the revenue is reinvested in the airports. The President asked staff to schedule a follow-up meeting within three months.