Published: Sun, June 11, 2017
Finance | By Kristine Clayton

President plans to privatize air traffic control

An initiative to privatise US' air traffic control operations has been announced by President Donald Trump, with the plan for a non-profit organisation to take the responsibility from the United States federal government. What would that mean for air travel?

Trump says the airline industry in America still relies on radar and ground control tracking systems, when nearly all of us have GPS enabled devices in our pockets.

McQueen says the idea of privatizing air-traffic control has been raised periodically since at least the Clinton administration, and it has both advocates and opponents in the industry.

The Trump plan, which still needs Congressional approval, would shift control of ATC from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into the hands of a private corporation.

The FAA spends almost $10 billion a year on air traffic control, paid for largely through passenger user fees, and has spent more than $7.5 billion on next-generation air traffic control reforms in recent years.

Democrats have largely opposed the changes, warning that airline interests would dominate the proposed board, overseeing an estimated 300 air traffic facilities and around 30,000 employees. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the plan was likely to raise costs for consumers and hurt small airports.

These comments were surprising given the fact that the American system handles orders of magnitude more traffic than any other in the world at efficiency and safety levels and costs per operation that are second to none. And lawmakers are uneasy about giving regulatory authority to a private organization. It also would switch the technology used to a GPS-based system rather than the current land-based radar system, making it more precise, said chief economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Ticket prices essentially would be equalized at first, but they might decrease over time, he said.

Critics also fear government bureaucracy.

While Donald Trump and his administration are hopeful that Congress will authorize the privatization of air traffic control, and it would be a huge political win for them, the task of changing the most complex air traffic control system in the world will not be an easy one.

US airlines have lobbied to separate air traffic control from the FAA for two decades and Trump's budget plan released earlier this year called for the changes, placing air traffic operations under an "independent, non-governmental organization".

Tell us what you think.

The U.S. air traffic control system is in line for a major overhaul. Sound off in the comments section below and share your thoughts.

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