Trump Talks Aviation


In an unusual move, the FAA has joined the chorus of comment about President Donald Trump’s Thursday assertions about the state of aviation infrastructure in the U.S. It was widely reported Thursday that Trump told airline executives he has no confidence in the FAA’s NextGen system, which has essentially been rolled out and is operating. “I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars,” Trump said. “It’s a system that’s totally out of whack. It’s way over budget, it’s way beyond schedule, and when it’s completed, it’s not going to be a good system. Other than that, it’s OK.” The FAA issued a news release, and took a shot at the airlines, shortly after the reports, based on a White House transcript of the meeting, surfaced and what follows is the FAA’s news release in its entirety.

“The FAA has spent $7.5 billion in congressionally appropriated funds on the air traffic modernization program known as NextGen over the past seven years. That investment has resulted in $2.7 billion in benefits to passengers and the airlines to date, and is expected to yield more than $160 billion in benefits through 2030.

NextGen is one of the most ambitious infrastructure and modernization projects in U.S. history. Its successful, ongoing rollout is the result of rigorous acquisition, program and portfolio management, and stakeholder engagement with the airline industry and other members of the aviation community. The FAA invited airline stakeholders to help develop the blueprint for NextGen and they continue to have a seat at the table in setting NextGen priorities and investments through the NextGen Advisory Committee.”

Trump told the group he has “a pilot who’s a real expert” who has told him Next Gen is “the wrong stuff” and that he wants to ensure that the modernization program is “using the right equipment.” The expert pilot is widely speculated to be the captain of Trump’s personal Boeing 757 John Dunkin but it hasn’t been confirmed.

Of course, the real agenda at the meeting was air traffic control privatization and the airline bosses left no question as to where they stand. “We want the government out of managing the air traffic control system so that it can be adequately managed, adequately financed- and we can get this done,” Southwest Airlines President Gary Kelly told the president. “We won World War II in three and a half years, we ought to be able to modernize air traffic control.”

Meanwhile, NBAA was the first to jump on the reports from the meeting saying the privatization scenario being discussed there essentially means handing the National Airspace System to the airlines to run. NBAA President Ed Bolen released a statement saying it’s good the president is advocating aviation modernization but not at the expense of other aviation stakeholders.

“We are concerned that in today’s meeting, it appears that some airline interests wanted to shift the conversation away from taking a bipartisan approach to modernization, to focus instead on their decades-long objective of privatizing ATC, funding it with new user fees, and placing it under the governing control of a self-interested, airline-centric board of directors,” Bolen’s statement said. “The fact is, in this important debate, there are two sides,” Bolen added. “The president may have heard the airlines’ position today, but surveys of everyday Americans have repeatedly shown that, by a significant majority, citizens oppose the notion of creating a privatized ATC system. The concerns of these citizens are well-founded – after all, the nation’s aviation system is a public asset, intended to serve the entire public, including the people and businesses in the small towns and rural areas that rely on general aviation.”

In case you missed it, the president’s opening comments are below.