White House endorses US ATC spin-off

US President Trump today advanced his administration’s plan to corporatise the nation’s air traffic control system, spinning it off from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to a nonprofit corporation.

Read More About Plans to Corporatise US ATC

In a White House signing ceremony today President Trump said: “At its core our new plan will dramatically improve America’s [ATC] system by turning it over to a self-financing non-profit organisation. This new entity will not need taxpayer money. Under this new plan the FAA will focus firmly on what it does best, safety.”

Accompanied by US Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao, and US House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Bill Shuster’s, a long-time advocate for corporatisation, Trump said: “The separate non-profit entity will be charged with ensuring route efficiency, timely service, and a long-awaited reduction in delays. Air traffic controllers will have more financial security, professional opportunity, and far superior equipment.”

Last year, similar legislation was championed by Shuster although his bill failed to reach the Senate due to resistance to any attempt to transfer government assets to a corporation. Supporters insist the move would speed up efforts by the FAA to modernise the NextGen modernisation programme.

The White House is expected to soon unveil its principles for overhauling the air traffic control system to Congress although aides have said the imminent proposal will be largely based on Shuster’s legislation to replace the current taxes on fuel and airline tickets with fees paid by airspace users – something which the White House has called ‘an excellent starting point’. The FAA would retain its role as an oversight agency.

The move would separate 30,000 FAA workers from the government — made up of 14,000 air traffic controllers and more than 16,000 working on the NextGen programme.

While the move to a corporation has been tentatively endorsed by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) other aviation stakeholder groups, including the National Business Aviation Association and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, have complained that large airlines will have too much control and threaten aviation links to smaller communities. Policy aides have however pledged that in Trump’s plan “there is money to make sure that rural airports get protected.”

A recent White House budget document points out that dozens of other nations have moved toward separating air traffic control from the government, citing Canada as a country that has successfully privatised its air management functions 20 years ago.

NATCA president Paul Rinaldi said the controllers’ union shared the administration’s commitments to infrastructure modernisation and providing the national airspace system with a stable, predictable funding stream.

“We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the air traffic control (ATC) reform legislation so we can evaluate whether it satisfies our union’s principles, including protecting the rights and benefits of the ATC workforce,” he said.

NATCA has previously said it considers the status quo to be unacceptable although would oppose any ATC reform proposal that would institute a for-profit model. NATCA previously supported a federally chartered not-for-profit corporation model, as proposed in the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act of 2016, because it met our four core principles for reform. For NATCA to consider supporting any new reform proposal, it said any new legislation must – at minimum:

  • protect the rights and benefits of the workforce;
  • ensure that safety and efficiency remain the top priorities;
  • provide a stable, predictable funding stream that adequately supports air traffic control services, staffing, hiring and training, long-term modernisation, preventative maintenance, and ongoing modernisation of the physical infrastructure; and
  • maintain service to all segments of the US’s diverse aviation community

NBAA president and chief executive Ed Bolen said: “We are deeply concerned with the president’s call for ATC privatisation – a concept that has long been a goal of the big airlines. No one should confuse ATC modernisation with ATC privatisation – the two are very different concepts.

“Unfortunately, the recent discussion about privatisation 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,” Bolen said. “We are concerned that those left behind under ATC privatisation would be the citizens, companies and communities that rely on general aviation for all manner of services.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is expected to discuss the proposal further during a transport committee hearing scheduled for Thursday.

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