US president Donald Trump is reported as expressing support for changes to the government’s air traffic control system and placing a pilot at the head of the Federal Aviation Administration after meeting with airline and airport executives at the White House.
Trump is reported as telling the meeting: “I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack.”
“I hear the government contracted for a system, that’s the wrong system,” said Trump. “It’s way over budget, it’s way behind schedule and when it’s complete it’s not going to be a good system.”
Those attending the White House meeting included the chief executives of United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.
When Trump invited comments from his industry guests, Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest, told him that “the single biggest opportunity for aviation is to modernise the air traffic control system. We have spent billions of dollars on air traffic control modernisation, but it’s not making any meaningful progress”.
All major domestic carriers except Delta back a proposal to spin off air traffic control operations from the FAA, running them instead through a nonprofit corporation whose board would include airline representatives.
This has been championed in Congress by House transportation chairman Bill Shuster although his legislative bid ran into resistance in the Senate during the Obama administration.
The new transportation secretary Elaine Chao has not said whether she backs any move to break up the aviation agency. Even so, lawmakers must reauthorise the FAA’s authority and funding stream by September 30.
“US airlines are an integral part of our nation’s economy, as millions of Americans depend on safe, affordable and abundant air travel and shipping options each day,” said A4A president and CEO Nicholas Calio. “We are grateful to President Trump for hosting this meeting and were encouraged by his in-depth understanding of our industry and the need to reform our air traffic control system. We share his administration’s goals of growing jobs, reducing taxes and regulation, and expanding our economy. We are confident we can achieve these outcomes by working together.”
Career managers at the Federal Aviation Administration however expressed dismay with comments made by airline executives at the White House meeting with President Trump. “Airline executives and their special interest lobbyists sat down with President Trump yesterday and pretended they have not been stakeholders in the development of the FAA’s air traffic modernisation programme known as NextGen for the last decade,” said Andy Taylor, president of the FAA Managers Association (FAAMA). “To hear their tales, it was as if they were on the outside looking in, despite having participated in 19 separate meetings with the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee, along with hundreds of other meetings at facilities around the country.”
“The major airlines continue to repeat the same tired, discredited tales of air traffic controllers using World War II technology to manage the National Airspace System (NAS), when that is pure fiction,” said Louis Dupart, the group’s Executive Director. “The major airlines, minus Delta, want to take control of the national airspace in the United States,” said Dupart, “and to do that, they are using ‘alternative facts’ like the World War II narrative because it is so sensational.” Taylor continued: “In reality, by the end of 2019, the automation platforms for all air traffic facilities will be less than 10 years old. That’s younger than the average aircraft age for United, Southwest and American Airlines.”
Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), the industry trade association for commercial service airports in the United States and Canada also attended the meeting.
ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin Burke said: “We shared our concerns with the president about potential reforms to air traffic control management. If the benefits are to be realised, investment is required in all phases of flight, including airport runways and taxiways, ground based equipment, satellite data systems, cockpits and control towers. The governance structure must include all stakeholders if it is to be successful.”
Meanwhile, there was general opposition to privatising the FAA’s ATC functions and turning it over to a non-profit corporation in a poll conducted by the Global Strategy Group.
More than 60 per cent of voters oppose privatising the air traffic control system and turning it over to a nonprofit corporation, according to a telephone survey released today by the Alliance for Aviation Across America, the League of Rural Voters, and the Air Care Alliance.