President Trump proposed Monday to privatize air-traffic control as a way make flights more reliable, but critics worry the move isn’t worth the risk.
“Our plan 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,” Trump said. “It’s about time.”
Charlie Leocha, president of Travelers United, a consumer-advocacy group, said modernizing the system will save time and fuel, and “eliminate traffic jams in the sky.”
“We are mired in a World War II-aged radar-based system while the rest of the world has moved to a satellite-based system," Leocha said.
But weather caused 54% of delays last year, volume 35% and closed runways 7%, according to the Transportation Department’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Critics of Trump's proposal worry about losing congressional oversight of air-traffic control.
“This will do nothing for flight delays," said Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “There’s only so much airspace in the northeast corridor in particular. There are only so many runways."
Congress will debate the proposal as part of Federal Aviation Administration legislation that expires Sept. 30. Similar proposals have been rejected since the 1990s, but administration officials hope to be successful this time because Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress.
Under Trump's plan, controllers would move from the FAA to a nonprofit corporation governed by a 13-member board of industry stakeholders. The board will initially have members representing airlines, unions and airports.
Airlines have strongly urged the change as a way to make funding more reliable so that ground-based radar can be upgraded faster to satellite-based GPS. Greater precision in tracking planes is expected to make routes more efficient and reduce fuel consumption and emissions while allowing for more flights.
Flight delays cost the economy an estimated $25 billion last year, which would be reduced by the private entity, according to Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, a trade group that represents most of the largest carriers.
“The president’s leadership means that we can look forward to legislation that gets government out of the way so we can modernize for the future and maintain our global leadership in aviation,” Calio said.
But key lawmakers have questioned whether a private corporation taking control of the system because of episodes of technology failures at airlines that cancel thousands of flights.
Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, the top Democrat on the Senate panel that oversees the FAA, said handing over control to a private entity partially governed by airlines “is both a risk and a liability we can’t afford to take.”
“The safety of the flying public should not be for sale,” Nelson said.