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The Race To Privatize The Friendly Skies

by Jeff Powers, published

Experts agree that the time to overhaul the US’s air traffic control system may be at hand; especially, as drone technology advances with commercial delivery capabilities.

President Trump said in a news conference Monday that he wants to privatize the air traffic control system and separate it from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Ongoing modernization efforts to the air traffic control system were already obsolete, and a new path is needed,” said the president.

The plan will head to Congress, where major hurdles are expected.

A summary document was sent to airlines and interest groups.

The White House is proposing a three-year transition period to shift oversight of air traffic control. The proposal says a board made up of airline, union, and airport officials would oversee the new non-profit entity, and it should honor existing labor agreements. Controllers would no longer be federal employees.

The FAA spends nearly $10 billion a year on air traffic control, funded largely through passenger user fees, and has about 28,000 air traffic control personnel.

The announcement comes as companies like Amazon are working to buy up air space for rights to the skies for their drone technology.

The effort to privatize air traffic control operations is not without its critics. Some groups say it gives the airlines too much control over the system for their own benefit.

One of the groups, Flyers' Rights, calls it the "creation of an airline controlled corporate monopoly." It also says privatizing air traffic control amounts to "handing the airlines (for free) control over a core public asset, and providing them nearly unbridled power to extract new fees and increased taxes from passengers."

The plan to privatize air traffic control will be included in legislation to reauthorize the FAA. The Senate Transportation Committee will discuss the proposal Wednesday. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will address the issue before the House Transportation Committee on Thursday.

This proposal is part of the White House’s broader infrastructure plan. The president will be in Cincinnati on Wednesday to talk more about infrastructure, focusing on inland waterways on the Ohio River, including aging dams.

Photo Credit: Andrey Khachatryan /

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