Trump Favors Privatizing U.S. Air Traffic Control

President Donald Trump, in budget documents released on March 16, indicated that he supports privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system (ATC). ATC is currently managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and he proposes to shift that responsibility to an independent group governed by a 13-person board of directors comprised of stakeholders representing all areas of aviation, in theory.

Trump, who owns a number of business jet aircraft, met with airline representatives in February and told them they “move 2 million passengers a day, and they do it well despite the bad equipment at airports in many cases.” He went on to call the present system “outdated and obsolete,” referencing comments made by his pilot who told him the equipment being ordered at airports is “obsolete the day it’s ordered.” He also claimed that in most cases buying the right equipment is less expensive. No details were mentioned regarding the specific types of equipment he was referring to.

The budget, which cuts the Department of Transportation’s discretionary funds by 13%, says Trump’s plan will “initiate a multi-year re-authorization proposal to shift the air traffic control function of the FAA to an independent, non-governmental organization.”

Similar proposals have been introduced in Congress over the past twenty  years or so, in various forms and usually include a provision that the new system be paid for by user fees, i.e., landing and perhaps other fees. Each time, such legislation has been supported by the commercial airlines and opposed by general and business aviation groups such as the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), the Alliance for Aviation Across America, as well as flight schools, private pilots, aeromedical providers, agricultural applicators, and numerous others.

Advocates of privatization argue that it would produce a more efficient system, as well as rapid and cost-effective technology updates and improvements, accomplished partly by avoiding the government procurement process.

Opponents, which include at least one airline, contend that privatization would not save money, and in fact may increase ticket prices because an entirely new – and very large – bureaucracy would need to be created to administer and maintain the system.

There is also a major concern among the non-airline stakeholders that the governing board would come to be dominated by the airlines, who would then fashion the system heavily in their favor. For example they may demand and eventually receive priority routing and separation services from ATC, and may disproportionately apply user fees, both of which are seen as having serious adverse effects on general and business aviation users.

We’ll continue to examine this topic in future installments.


Mike Straka, PhD
HN Contributing Author & Technical Support
Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

1. Trump Wants To Privatize Air Traffic Control In The U.S.  David Shepardson, Reuters.  Huffington Post website, March 16, 2017.