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President Trump launches air traffic control reform
Kirill Abbakumov   on Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

On June 5, the Trump administration has begun rolling out reform for American air-traffic control system (ATC). The FY2018 federal budget request proposes to create a nongovernmental entity to manage the nation’s ATC system. Many countries have corporatized their air traffic control function, separating it from the governmental aviation safety regulation function. Calling for the separation of the ATC from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will reduce congestion, flight times, and fuel usage, and will allow America to use and develop modern technology and communication equipment. This will improve safety and enhance America’s role in modern aviation technology.

President Trump announced his support of a proposal to shift the ATC function of the FAA to an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, while safety and regulatory functions would remain in the hands of the FAA.. Delays, wait times, and route inefficiencies prevalent in the current American system cost an estimated $25 billion a year in economic output. The reform would reduce aviation passenger taxes and the new entity would be responsible for setting and collecting fees directly from users based on their use of the American airspace. 

The new ATC privatization initiative will also benefit the U.S. aviation industry, which currently supports 1 out of every 14 American workers. The new non-profit corporation will not need any taxpayer funding and the privatization of ATC will reduce spending caps by $10 billion annually between 2021 and 2027. Additionally, the FY2018 budget proposes to reduce the various aviation excise taxes by an estimated $116 billion over the same period.

Last year, while debating a new FAA Reauthorization bill, Chairman Shuster pushed hard for ATC privatization, but in the end had to settle for an extension of the last authorization after the votes could not be mustered to support the spinoff.  With the president now providing support, Chairman Shuster has doubled-down on his efforts to see this privatization provision become a central part of a new authorization, due by the end of September 2017. 

Countries are major players in the debate over the reform of the ATC system as they own and operate 34% of the nation’s public airports. A central question remains as to the fate of smaller civil aviation facilities under privatization, as both local control and employment questions come to the forefront with the possibility of remote towers replacing manned towers at airport facilities. Some critics fear that a private corporation would decide it is more “economically viable” to maintain a current tower or consolidate control functions to a centralized location hundreds of miles away. In his remarks, President Trump did add assurances that rural airport facilities would benefit from the new ATC privatization push. However, he offered no specifics at this time.