More than 30,000 federal air traffic controllers and other workers from the Federal Aviation Administration would be spun off into a private nonprofit corporation if a new plan from the White House comes to fruition. White House officials say that the interests of rural airports, operators of non-commercial planes, and the Department of Defense would be protected under the proposal. The Trump administration first signaled the move in a preliminary budget released in March.
The White House formally endorsed the plan on Monday. At a White House ceremony, President Trump said, “The current system cannot keep up, has not been able to keep up for many years. We’re still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work.” Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said, “Government bureaucracy has held back innovation in American aviation. It’s time to bring our aviation system into the 21st century.”
Separating air traffic control from the FAA has been discussed for decades. A similar plan failed to gain sufficient traction in Congress last year. It is unclear whether the current proposal will have the momentum needed to get through both houses and to the president’s desk for his signature.
While the National Air Traffic Controllers Association previously backed a similar plan, the 11,000-member Professional Aviation Safety Specialists union was strongly opposed to it. Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Control Association, said, “We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the air traffic control reform legislation so we can evaluate whether it satisfies our Union’s principles, including protecting the rights and benefits of the ATC workforce.”
There has been much frustration on Capitol Hill over the pace of the FAA’s modernization program, called NextGen. NextGen is a group of systems designed to direct the flow of aircraft and accommodate a 20 percent increase in passengers over the next two decades. The FAA spent $7 billion to modernize the aviation system during the Obama administration. At times, the multibillion-dollar modernization program has moved slowly, or not at all.
This week, the administration says it will focus on infrastructure. Administration officials want to spend an additional $200 billion tax dollars on infrastructure in the coming years. The administration is seeking congressional approval for the increased spending.
On Wednesday, President Trump is planning to travel to Cincinnati to discuss the freight movement on inland waterways. Thursday, he is scheduled to be at the White House discussing infrastructure needs with mayors and governors from across the nation. On Friday, the president plans to discuss changes to rules and regulations that would expedite project construction in a meeting at the Department of Transportation.