Trump Announces Plan To Privatize Air Traffic Control It's an idea long supported by most of the commercial airlines and the union, which say the system is inefficient under the Federal Aviation Administration.

Trump Announces Plan To Privatize Air Traffic Control

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The White House announced a plan today to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system. This is part of the administration's focus this week on the country's aging infrastructure. President Trump says the FAA has been trying to update the air traffic control system for years.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But after billions and billions of tax dollars spent and the many years of delays, we're still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn't work.

MCEVERS: The president's plan to modernize air traffic control by privatizing it has a number of supporters and some critics, too. Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: President Trump says the nation's air traffic control system is stuck painfully in the past.

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TRUMP: At a time when every passenger has GPS technology in their pockets our air traffic control system still runs on radar and ground-based radio systems that they don't even make anymore, they can't even fix anymore.

SCHAPER: Flanked by airline executives, the president said flight delays and air traffic control inefficiencies cost the nation's economy billions each year.

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TRUMP: We're proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays. Our plan will get you where you need to go more quickly, more reliably, more affordably.

SCHAPER: The president's plan calls for a three-year transition in which air traffic control operations would be turned over to a private nonprofit entity, similar to how it's done in Canada. The FAA would continue to provide safety oversight while the private entity would be run by a 13-member board made up of airport and airline executives, labor unions and other stakeholders.

PAUL HUDSON: The airlines would essentially be in charge of the skies.

SCHAPER: Paul Hudson is president of the passenger advocacy group flyersrights.org. He argues this could be risky.

HUDSON: Hardly a week goes by that they haven't had a - either a shutdown through computer outages or videos that show mistreatment of passengers. And it goes on and on.

SCHAPER: The Trump plan would eliminate ticket taxes on passengers, replacing it with a more direct funding scheme. And that concerns Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, ranking member of the House Transportation Committee.

PETER DEFAZIO: What fees are you going to pay to this private corporation to get on the plane? The airlines hate the ticket tax and want to do away with it, but what's the new system? What's that going to do to general aviation? What's that going to do to businesses aviation, cargo? We don't know.

SCHAPER: DeFazio also worries that privatizing air traffic control operations could actually slow recent progress the FAA is making in implementing its new satellite-based system called NextGen. But Robert Puentes, who heads the nonpartisan think tank Eno Center for Transportation, disagrees.

ROBERT PUENTES: There's no doubt that moving to this independent nonprofit system would be able to deploy this new technology faster than the way that we're doing it right now.

SCHAPER: Puentes says years of uncertain budgets and partisan gridlock have slowed the implementation of NextGen, and he argues privatizing air traffic control would provide stability.

PUENTES: This really isn't about deconstructing government. This isn't getting government out of transportation. It's not selling off assets, anything like that. This is really about getting this very important investment done much faster.

SCHAPER: Nonetheless, some Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing efforts to privatize the air traffic control system in the past, so like many other elements of the president's agenda, this plan likely has some turbulence ahead. David Schaper, NPR News.

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