President Donald Trump’s new budget includes privatization of air traffic control. The document tabled Thursday in Washington contains an outright endorsement of privatization as a move that “would benefit the flying public and taxpayers overall.” The airline industry has been lobbying nonstop since Trump’s election for the formation of a nonprofit corporation to run the national airspace system controlled by a board of directors dominated by airline representatives. Most general aviation groups have vigorously opposed privatization, saying it would amount to handing the nation’s airspace over to the airlines, something the airlines themselves have suggested is accurate.
The budget calls for a “multi-year reauthorization proposal to shift the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] to an independent, non-governmental organization, making the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety.” It drew immediate support from longtime privatization supporter Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee proposed similar legislation last year but it was stalled by Senate opposition. “The inclusion of this good government infrastructure proposal shows that the president is truly focused on changing the way Washington works,” said Shuster, who has close ties to Aviation 4 America, the national group representing U.S. airlines.
The committee proposal met intense opposition from most aviation groups although AOPA, the largest of them, said it was open to discussing the move as long as it didn’t result in user fees, something it has frequently stated that it flatly opposes. The Trump administration is apparently ready to go through the due diligence part of implementing the program. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is apparently planning to travel to Ottawa, Canada, to meet with leaders of NavCanada, the nonprofit corporation that has run the airspace north of the border and over the North Atlantic for 20 years. NavCanada charges most light aircraft operators in Canada a flat fee of $68 a year for access to all but the country’s 10 busiest airports. Commercial operators pay for access on a fee-for-service basis and are billed for air traffic control services.