WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump outlined a plan on Monday to privatize the USA air traffic control system to modernize outdated systems and lower the cost of flying, but the proposal faced immediate criticism from Democrats.
Still, Trump's call for privatizing air traffic control comes during an unprecedented era of safe aviation in the U.S. There hasn't been a fatal accident in the last eight years, according to the Associated Press.
"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.
"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 anymore, 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.
Trump was surrounded by members of Congress as he signed a decision memo and a letter to lawmakers outlining his principles for the air traffic control plan.
USA airlines have been campaigning for decades to separate air traffic control operations from the FAA and have also argued that FAA efforts to modernize the air traffic system is taking too long and has produced too few benefits.
"I share President Trump's desire to make travel in America's airspace safer, more efficient and technologically advanced", Estes says. The FAA would still maintain safety oversight, however. The debate focuses on why it has taken the FAA so long to adopt Next Generation (NextGen) technology, aimed at reducing aircraft delays, wasted fuel and other costs. "The enhanced safety advancements come from the separation of the FAA and the air traffic control system".
Trump's announcement is one of several events the White House is touting as part of its "infrastructure week". "ATC reform presents an exciting infrastructure improvement opportunity, and its completion will demonstrate early progress toward much needed infrastructure reform across all sectors", the White House said.
Privatization of air traffic control is an idea long supported by most of the commercial airlines.
House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Trump was recycling "a exhausted Republican plan that both sides of the aisle have rejected" and would "hand control of one of our nation's most important public assets to special interests and the big airlines".
DJ Gribbin, special assistant to the president for infrastructure, said the White House has modified Shuster's proposal to include more representation for smaller airports on the 13-member board that would oversee the nation's air traffic control.
Opponents worry that the plan, which would require congressional approval, will give too much power to the airline industries.
The current air traffic control system can't keep up with the growing number of travelers, he said, causing "flight delays and crippling inefficiencies". "These concerns are based on our operating experiences in these foreign systems and impact they have had on general aviation". "Today, we are proposing to take American air travel into the future... finally", said Trump. That drama will come to a head on Thursday when former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who was leading the Russian Federation probe until Trump fired him, testifies before a U.S. Senate panel. He failed to mention, however, that Canada employs nine times fewer air traffic controllers than the U.S. FAA. Trump had proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on the campaign trail, which Democrats indicated a willingness to support.