Trump Announces Plan To Privatize US Air Traffic Control

Filed Under: Misc.

Today President Trump announced his intentions to privatize the US Air Traffic Control system. This would take the job of air traffic control away from the direct control of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and rather give them more of an oversight role.

Per NPR, here’s what Trump had to say during today’s speech:

“Today we’re proposing to take American air travel into the future, finally,” Trump said.

The nation’s air traffic control system was designed when far fewer people flew, Trump said, calling it “stuck, painfully, in the past.” He also called the system “ancient, broken, antiquated” and “horrible” and said his reforms would make it safer and more reliable.

The FAA has worked to upgrade its system, but Trump and other critics say it was taking far too long. “Honestly, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing,” Trump said. “A total waste of money.”

You can watch Trump’s speech below (it’s quite short — he only talks for about 10 minutes):

I think most would agree that the current US ATC system is outdated, especially in comparison to other countries. Many other countries, including Canada, have privatized and more modern air traffic control systems.

The concept of privatizing air traffic control is supported by most major airlines, and even the union of air traffic controllers is in favor of it. They realize that the current system is inefficient, and think that a more efficient system could lead to less congested skies.

At the same time, the plan is opposed by some, who fear that privatizing ATC would give too much control to the airlines, since the board of the new organization would be made up mostly of airline representatives. Furthermore, there are fears that this would impact many smaller markets, which couldn’t justify the costs of these services under a privatized system. While different, perhaps it’s a similar concept to Trump wanting to cut the Essential Air Service program, which provides government subsidies for airlines to operate flights to smaller markets.

In terms of a timeline for seeing this new plan implemented, the Senate Transportation Committee will discuss the proposal with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao later this week. The actual legislation will likely be included as part of future legislation involving re-authorizing the FAA, so this isn’t something that’s likely to happen overnight. So I’m not sure what exactly Trump was signing after his speech, since there’s not a bill in place yet. Hmmm…

Trump claims that privatizing ATC will save money starting the first year. Ultimately we’ll have to see the actual legislation before drawing too many conclusions, though hopefully it’s something that they take their time on and put a lot of effort into, rather than rushing to implement it.

I’ll be curious to see what happens with this…

What do you make of the plan to privatize US ATC?

  1. Airports have been privatised and 3 airlines have oligopoly and air travel has never been more miserable and dangerous to the public that it is today. Privatising the air traffic control, all for profit, to a few friends of the already ultra rich 1% is a disastrous move, that will end up killing passengers in large numbers.

  2. As a pilot I love Nav-Canada and euro control. I hate to say it but the US is woefully behind with the times.
    With the modern use of CPDLC or controller-pilot data link communications it makes things much easier. Instead of everyone clogging up radio frequencies we can just text requests for short cuts, deviations, and frequency exchanges between sectors. When flying sfo-Cdg for example you literally don’t talk to anyone when in Canadian airspace. You check on via cpdlc when entering and monitor radio frequencies all the way until you hit the NAT tracks for the Atlantic. then you check on with Gander control until handed off to Shanwick control until handed off to someone in else. It really is a great system.

  3. A good move that will hopefully relieve congestion at many airports currently at overcapacity – I just hope we get to see the benefits in our lifetime…

  4. With the mind behind Trump Air getting behind the problem, what could go wrong? Added bonus, I didn’t realize that the Trump Organization made ATC equipment.

  5. Hasse, your histrionics are hilarious. Feel free to face facts : privatised ATC exists elsewhere in the world and has been a catalyst for rapid improvements, improvements not seen here. And virtually all airports in the US are held by the government (city, state, federal or combination thereof). Facts, ammarite?

  6. it’s not really privatization, since the ATC system would be handed off to a nonprofit corporation. the term privatization is being used by opponents (general aviation) because it has a negative connotation in the public. it’s not like the government is selling the ATC system off to the highest bidder.

    overall, a great plan, but I think the opponents are powerful enough that it’s going to be a tough battle to get it through Congress.

  7. Hrm. When I think navcan, all I think of is the ridiculously high surcharge added to the price of the ticket. While the idea of upgrading the tech is great, I’m not entirely sure how pushing atc into its own nonprofit is going to magically make everything better. At the end of the day, someone is going to have to pay for this nice shiny new technology. If the airlines are running the board of the new entity, you can guess who will NOT be paying.

  8. I’m not completely against this, but it seems Congress could give the FAA a reasonable budget and then it wouldnt be necessary?

  9. @Hasse What? Airports in the US are entirely owned and operated by the government in some capacity. Either directly or through a government’s transportation authority. Security, airport operations, ATC are all through the government. And because of that, you see very little innovation, very little smoothly operated, pleasant terminals, an absolute wreck at security coupled with overzealous agents inappropriately touching pax with no reprecussions, and agents caring more about a bottle of water and letting through guns, knives, etc unchecked and unquestioned. It’s common knowledge that US aviation is a complete travesty compared to other nations.

    Between horrid airport operations, daily delays due to poor traffic management, the incompetence of TSA and the 3 legacy carriers who alot of times seem like they hate their customers, flying and going to airports is largely a terrible experience in the US. This is probably the first thing Trump has proposed that should be applauded by all sides of the aisle. If done right, it could huge boost to one aspect of our infrastructure

  10. Starting back in the 80’s, seen a number of billion dollar contracts going out to Boeing, IBM, Lockheed, and the like for Next generation ATC system. And to this day have very little to show for it. Heck if it wasn’t for the military putting up the satellites, we wouldn’t have GPS still. And over the years the feds have added a ATC fee to tickets to help fund the improvement/overhaul, but all we’ve gotten is a bunch of research papers.

  11. @Hasse, the plan is not to privatize for profit, the plan is to move ATC operations to a Non-Profit Corporation.

    The airports I know of in the U.S are operated by the cities, not the Federal Government, not private companies. Though some ATC services at certain airports have been contracted out.

    The people working ATC are not “airport workers”.

  12. why do ATC controllers need to make 120K a year? The job isn’t that hard. Cut those salaries a bit and use that money saved to fix the system.

  13. @ZO-yes but Canada has a health plan we could follow as well. We going to do it? No because it isn’t in the best interest of Trump and the 1%. Let’s not follow the path because others have done it successfully. We are a nation of greed. That is the sole goal here by the Republican party. You seriously feel they give a rats ass about efficiency and safety?

  14. I think it is funny that the justification for privatization is that the funding for the FAA over the years has been very erratic. Basically congress sabotaged the agency and that is why it needs to be privatized. They do the same thing with Amtrak and USPS. If they would just be competent managers in the first place, privatization would not be needed. I guess that is too much to expect.

  15. Well Delta doesn’t support it. They have done a study which shows that after privatisation in the UK, airlines had to pay more for atc services…

  16. President Trump signed a memo on Monday outlining the principles of his plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.

    a memo…

    Movin’ right along in search of good times and good news,

  17. President Trump tweets on Monday outlining the principles of his plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.

    a tweet…

    Movin’ right along in search of good times and good news,

  18. The Government running ATC is not the cause of flight delays. Flight delays are due to:

    a) Lack of pavement/runways. You cannot cram any more planes into LGA than are already scheduled, and making enroute separation more efficient will not change this.

    b) Airline scheduling. DFW Airport has an ideal arrival capacity of 159 flights per hour and an ideal departure capacity of 105 flights per hour. When American schedules their tight “banks” to make for shorter connection times, they will schedule say 70-75 departures in a 30 minute period. They know their planes are going to sit at the runway for a while, but they design their schedule for this and then can blame the delays on ATC.

    c) Weather. For both of the above scenarios, things work as designed from an ATC perspective 80-90% of the time. When there are thunderstorms, snow, ice, and wind shear there is nothing anyone can do to convince a pilot to fly into something they deem unsafe. Even removing the government’s hands from the system will do nothing to improve efficiency.

    The United States invented air traffic control, and it is the framework upon which the entire aviation system in this country is built. The purpose of the system is the Safe, Orderly, and Expeditious flow of aircraft on a first-come, first-serve basis. Giving the airlines control of the system would not in any way be better for the flying public.

  19. Such a bad idea…here is some text from some ATC friends (and I have a lot of knowledge and study in aviation as well.). It seems like a better idea on paper than reality.

    A very good look at the Air Traffic Control debate. Like with most things with this administration he believes the private sector can wave it’s magic wand and make everything great again. Thank you Kyle Szary for posting this. Hope you don’t mind the copy and paste. Currently in congress there is a debate on whether privatizing Air Traffic Control would be detrimental to aviation safety. Advocates of privatization argue that privately run control towers cost less to operate, are equally as safe as FAA-run facilities, and will increase the speed of modernization of equipment. Opponents of privatization point to examples of other countries that have privately run ATC facilities (like Great Britain, Australia and Canada) and the massive problems they have encountered. In theory and on paper the arguments for privatization may be valid but when put into real world use, they fail miserably.
    ATC privatization is significantly different than typical privatizations. Typical proposals to privatize public services involve specifying the service to be privatized and putting out a competitive request for bids for the contract. The service is then turned over to the lowest bidder. The theory that there are alternative suppliers is sufficient motivation for the contractor to perform to the agency’s specifications. But many Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of their flight safety being managed by a company that won the job by submitting the lowest bid.
    ATC privatization differs from typical privatization proposals in two essential ways. First, it cannot be completely handed over to a private company since the FAA has to retain a powerful supervisory role to maintain public safety and security. Secondly, it cannot be competitively bid on. ATC is not a service subject to the discipline of a competitive, capitalist market place. There are no available private sector providers listed in a phone book ready, willing and able to sell a national ATC system at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, the government could not create a competitive market for ATC service even if it wanted to. ATC is what economists characterize as a “natural monopoly.” Natural monopolies are situations in which, because of the large scale of operation and the high fixed costs in infrastructure, it is less expensive to have a single regulated provider. It would be inefficient to duplicate the costly advanced technology that modern ATC demands among many providers who would then compete to sell it to the government.
    Still ATC privatization is a highly debated topic in congress, split between party lines. The Bush administration and the rest of the republicans in congress are in favor of privatization, while democrats are adamantly opposed to it. Of the three main arguments for privatized ATC services, one needs to only look at the examples from other countries to see how these arguments are inaccurate .
    Probably some of the biggest arguments for privatization are that contracted facilities will be cheaper to run than FAA facilities and they are equally, if not more, as safe as government-run facilities. While it may be true that privately run facilities have been successful at reducing totals costs, it is the “at what price?” question that is rarely asked. The price is safety and employee satisfaction. It is risky in terms of public safety to have private operators each responding to their own internal profit margins, acting by their own operational protocols moving air traffic through the national air space. Also, it is likely that the current 24-hour service at many facilities would be reduced to cut costs, limiting the flexibility of commercial users. NAV Canada, Canada’s private ATC provider, has been successful at keeping costs low by negotiating with controllers to keep flexible schedules. As a result, fewer controllers need to be hired and labor costs are kept low, but controllers in Canada are stretched to the point of being unable to perform their jobs. Since NAV Canada took over operations in 1998, they have an aircraft incident rate twice that as America with a system 7% the size of America. NAV Canada suffers from inefficiencies, inadequate staffing and huge financial losses. In August, the fees that airlines and ultimately passengers pay for air traffic control services in Canada went up 7 percent to cover NAV Canada’s $22 million debt. The Edmonton Journal described NAV Canada as “financially ravaged.” In Great Britain, near-misses have increased by 50 percent, and delays have grown enormously since their ATC system was privatized. In addition, the privatized system has been a financial disaster, requiring a bailout in March 2003 of more than $200 million from their government and airlines. And in Australia, cost saving work rules have so infuriated controllers that a series of strikes have crippled air traffic movement for hours at a time at a high cost to Australians as a whole.
    Another claim of privatization advocates is that private ATC companies would provide modern technology and would be innovative and speedy adapters of new technology. The Canadian, Australian and British cases all demonstrate that this is not the truth. In Canada, technological innovation has consisted of waiting for the U.S. to develop new technology and then importing it. The Australian Advanced Air Traffic System (TAAATS) has led to several technological failures, including a twelve-minute radar blackout. In the United Kingdom, introduction of new software has caused severe disruptions and system shutdowns. Controllers in a new London area facility have been unable to make out the call numbers of planes on their new screens, which is a major safety hazard. Major inefficiency and safety hazards associated with private implementation of new technology are demonstrated through international cases. They clearly dispute the argument that privatization brings better technology quicker and it demonstrates a substantial risk of technological failure.
    America’s air traffic control system is the best in the world. It is staffed by highly trained professionals employed by the FAA. Their #1 priority is always safety. There is no private contractor trying to pinch pennies by cutting staffing. Government controllers are answerable to the public, not to investors or accountants. The United States now has the safest, most efficient air traffic control system in the world. Controllers guide more than one million passengers safely every day. It is beyond comprehension why the White House would want to risk this high standard of safety, especially considering the dismal record of air traffic control privatization in other countries. Now more than ever, the American public expects the federal government to protect our safety, not to put it up for sale.

  20. When I read that this will be handled by a Non-Profit Corporations I laugh a lot, looks like a lot of people here don’t have a clue about the new business era.

    USA can’t compare with Europe, when they decided to privatize something, they do it right with a lot of rules (laws) to follow, but in America where they are a lot of lobbyists everywhere you got is not possible, all the rules are flexible and always in favor of big corporations…

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