What the Aviation Industry is Saying about Trump’s Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative

The president’s push for ATC privatization continues to generate resistance.

Trump ATC
President Trump's latest push for ATC privatization is still mostly being met with resistance from aviation industry officials.The White House

On Monday, President Trump introduced his Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative and outlined a vague plan to usher in a "great new era in American aviation." He claimed that taking the existing "ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible" ATC system away from the FAA and putting it in the hands of a nonprofit entity will make air travel better for the nation, and also create a new system that will be much better than any other country's ATC. "Ours is going to top it by a lot," Trump said.

Responses from major aviation groups were swift and blunt from the moment Trump wrapped his speech. As it has been since the administration's budget was first proposed, the reaction was once again mostly negative (read our stance from the May issue of Flying). While many officials and experts remain open to new ideas and proposals, especially in regard to job creation and the modernization of infrastructure, the strongest pushback concerns the idea of user fees for general aviation.

Here is what some industry officials are saying about the ATC Reform Initiative:

“While AOPA is open to proposals aimed at making the air traffic control system more efficient and delivering technology in a timely and cost effective manner, we have consistently said we will not support policies that impose user fees on general aviation. As the air traffic debate continues, we are also concerned about the impact of these proposed reforms on general aviation based on what we have seen in other countries. We applaud President Trump’s calls to invest and improve our nation’s infrastructure including our airports. However, the U.S. has a very safe air traffic system today and we don’t hear complaints from our nearly 350,000 members about it. We will continue to work with the Administration and members of Congress including the General Aviation Caucus to ensure that safety, access, cost, and the freedom to fly are protected and addressed.” – Mark Baker, AOPA President & CEO

“The White House principles make a gross misrepresentation that the air traffic control system is broken, but the facts don’t support the claim,” said Jack J. Pelton, EAA CEO/Chairman. “This proposal is a solution in search of a problem. EAA supports modernization of the American airspace system, and progress is happening with the input of all the system’s stakeholders. This new plan would do nothing to solve any current technology or efficiency issues, while undermining the world’s most extensive general aviation system and disrupting the world’s largest and safest air traffic control system. It is a bad idea, and EAA will continue to state that to those in aviation, Congress, and the public.”

"With the airlines in charge of air traffic control, it's increasingly possible that airport access to general aviation aircraft could become restricted, and that a private organization could be empowered with taxing authority," AEA President Paula Derks said. "The volume of air traffic in the United States, including general aviation traffic, far exceeds that of any other nation. Modernizing the nation's aviation system should be the focus and is much more important than privatizing the system, which is the safest in the world."

“It’s difficult to see how one 'Makes America Great Again' by emulating foreign air traffic control systems that are smaller and demonstrably less safe than our own. The Trump proposal introduces significant uncertainty to the world’s largest, most complex and safest air traffic control system, offering a radical solution to issues that can be addressed within the FAA’s current framework. Surprisingly, the proposal also makes little business sense, it does nothing to address the need for additional airport infrastructure investment but adds significantly to annual budget deficits and increases the costs to be borne by the non-flying public.

“This is yet another Trump Administration slap at rural America. The Administration recently proposed slashing support for rural air service but now talks about maintaining rural access. What are those services and how do you maintain them? Instead, the Trump proposal indicates access for rural America will be limited to their willingness to pay whatever the airlines demand. Corporatizing air traffic control further limits the public’s ability to address issues of concern, removes transparency in ticket costs and undermines general aviation. General aviation groups shared those concerns in a joint industry letter to President Trump.” – NATA President Martin H. Hiller

“NBAA has worked for many years to promote technologies, policies and procedures that ensure America’s aviation system remains the largest, best, safest and most diverse system in the world,” National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen said. “We are deeply concerned with the president’s call for ATC privatization – a concept that has long been a goal of the big airlines. No one should confuse ATC modernization with ATC privatization – the two are very different concepts.

“Unfortunately, the recent discussion about privatization is really about the airlines’ push to gain more control over our air traffic control system, so that they can run it for their own benefit, and is a sideshow to a serious and constructive discussion about building on the progress currently underway on NextGen. We are concerned that those left behind under ATC privatization would be the citizens, companies and communities that rely on general aviation for all manner of services.''

“Privatizing the largest and most complex aviation system in the world is a risky and unnecessary step at this pivotal point in its modernization. True progress is being made through Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) programs. Breaking apart the system to establish a monopoly will take the focus off the substantial progress already being made. This would slow down enhancements and possibly compromise safety to fix a system that’s not broken.

“… this is not a single union, or single group of employees at the FAA, opposing this move. PASS is part of a coalition of labor and management groups that represent a majority of employees at the agency who oppose any efforts to privatize the air traffic control system.” - Mike Perrone, national president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, AFL-CIO

The United States (U.S.) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control system is the safest, most efficient, largest, technically advanced and most complex in the world. Jobs and continuing investment in the U.S. aviation system depend on a robust, stable and predictable climate for all users. We should not delay or prevent the system’s progress or the country’s growth for a risky transition to a new privatized entity for which only untested assertions about rewards or results can be made. Removing the U.S. air traffic control system from the FAA will create negative impacts for general aviation, rural and small communities, global leadership in air traffic control modernization and ongoing regulatory reform efforts.

“The White House plan to privatize the air traffic control system would give control over this infrastructure to private stakeholders and the commercial airlines, directly harming consumers and smaller communities who are already at the mercy of a large airline-conglomerate that leaves them with fewer choices, terrible and degrading treatment on flights, and a stream of constant delays and travel headaches that are the airlines own fault,” said Selena Shilad, Executive Director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.

“Not only is the President’s proposal a huge power grab for the commercial airlines, but the notion that the airlines can run anything better, let alone air traffic control, is laughable. These are the same airlines can scarcely get through a week without beating up their customers or throwing them off of flights, they have reduced service by over 20% to small towns, and they have about a major technological outage a week. All of these issues are the direct result of the fact that the airlines have become too large and anticompetitive, so handing them the keys to the air traffic control system is exactly a step in the wrong direction.”

This article previously stated that the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is in support of ATC privatization, which is incorrect. The article has been updated and we regret the error.