Trump pro­poses to pri­va­tize air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER

Pres­i­dent Trump be­gan push­ing his plan to re­build Amer­ica’s in­fra­struc­ture Mon­day with a pro­posal to pri­va­tize the air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem, promis­ing it would com­plete up­grades that have lan­guished for a decade and usher in a new era of safety and ef­fi­ciency.

Cut­ting the air traf­fic con­trol (ATC) loose from the bu­reau­cracy of the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion would has­ten the up­grade from land-based radar to the NextGen GPS sys­tem and make flights “quicker, safer and more af­ford­able,” said the pres­i­dent.

“Today we are propos­ing to take Amer­i­can air travel into the fu­ture — fi­nally, fi­nally. It’s been a long time,” Mr. Trump said in the East Room, where he gath­ered rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the air­lines, unions, air­ports and air trav­el­ers to demon­strate the broad sup­port for the plan.

He called the cur­rent sys­tem, which is con­sid­ered the safest in the world, “an an­cient, bro­ken, an­ti­quated, hor­ri­ble sys­tem that doesn’t work.”

The ATC pro­posal kicked off Mr. Trump’s week­long fo­cus on his in­fra­struc­ture agenda, which in­cludes events high­light­ing plans to mod­ern­ize in­land wa­ter­ways and re­build high­ways.

Like the rest of the agenda, the pri­va­ti­za­tion of air traf­fic con­trol is more gov­ern­ment re­form and dereg­u­la­tion than dol­ing out wads of tax­payer money for projects. As a re­sult, Mr. Trump again will run into stiff re­sis­tance from left and the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment.

Mr. Trump sent Congress a set of prin­ci­ples to guide the draft­ing of leg­is­la­tion.

Un­der the plan, air traf­fic con­trol would be op­er­ated by a pri­vate, non­profit and self-fi­nanced cor­po­ra­tion. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment would elim­i­nate all the taxes cur­rently paid to sup­port ATC and al­low the new cor­po­ra­tion to im­pose user fees.

The FAA would con­tinue to be re­spon­si­ble for safety and would po­lice the new non-gov­ern­ment en­tity.

Crit­ics warned that pri­va­ti­za­tion could risk safety and na­tional se­cu­rity, and threaten cre­at­ing a mega com­pany dom­i­nated by ma­jor air­lines with lit­tle in­cen­tive to sup­port gen­eral avi­a­tion and ru­ral air­ports.

Se­lena Shi­lad, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the non­par­ti­san Al­liance for Avi­a­tion, said pri­va­ti­za­tion would give too much power to com­mer­cial air­lines “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.”

Mr. Trump stressed that the plan would safe­guard ru­ral and com­mu­nity air­ports, as well as in­crease use of airspace across the coun­try through up­grad­ing to NextGen.

If Mr. Trump suc­ceeds, the U.S. would join dozens of coun­tries that have pri­va­tized ATC, including state-of-the-art sys­tems in Canada and Aus­tralia.

The pres­i­dent views re­build­ing in­fra­struc­ture, which was a prom­i­nent cam­paign prom­ise, as key to his strat­egy for cre­at­ing jobs and grow­ing the econ­omy.

The cur­rent ATC sys­tem was de­signed gen­er­a­tions ago when air­ports served about 1,000 pas­sen­gers a day. Nearly 1 mil­lion trav­el­ers now fly ev­ery day and suf­fer de­lays at air­ports, long wait times on the tar­mac and the dan­ger­ous rou­tine of air­planes cir­cling air­ports wait­ing to land, said the pres­i­dent.

“That costs us bil­lions and bil­lions of dol­lars,” said Mr. Trump. “Our plans will get you where you need to go more quickly, more re­li­ably, more af­ford­ably and, yes, for the first time in a long time, on time.”

U.S. air traf­fic con­trol is the largest, most com­plex and safest in the world, guid­ing about 50,000 flights a day. But the sys­tem is ag­ing and in need of mod­ern­iza­tions, as is the case with much of Amer­ica’s high­ways, bridges, wa­ter­ways and air­ports that Mr. Trump wants to re­build.

“At a time when ev­ery pas­sen­ger has GPS tech­nol­ogy in their pock­ets, our air traf­fic con­trol sys­tem still runs on radar and ground-based ra­dio sys­tems that they don’t even make any­more, they can’t even fix any­more,” he said.

He faulted the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for spend­ing $7 bil­lion in an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to up­grade the sys­tem.

“Hon­estly, they didn’t know what the hell they were do­ing,” he said. “A total waste of money.”

Pri­va­tiz­ing ATC has been on con­ser­va­tives’ wish list for decades but the idea has never gained trac­tion.

This time is dif­fer­ent, said a White House of­fi­cial, be­cause the stars have aligned with Repub­li­cans in con­trol of the White House and both cham­bers of Congress.

The of­fi­cial even de­scribed the pri­va­ti­za­tion of mas­sive ATC sys­tem as “low-hang­ing fruit.” The move was ap­plauded by con­ser­va­tives. “I am grate­ful this ad­min­is­tra­tion has been ea­ger and will­ing to re­duce the bur­den of fed­eral reg­u­la­tions and mis­man­aged bu­reau­cracy on a va­ri­ety of Amer­ica’s core in­dus­tries,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Repub­li­can.

The pro­posal was re­jected by the left and Capi­tol Hill Democrats, who say it was just the first step in Mr. Trump’s push to pri­va­tize the coun­try’s high­ways, bridges and other in­fra­struc­ture.

“The en­tire fo­cus of the Pres­i­dent’s in­fra­struc­ture ‘pro­posal’ is on pri­va­ti­za­tion, which sounds like a nice word but when you scratch be­neath the sur­face it means much less con­struc­tion and far fewer jobs, par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat.

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