President Trump will begin a push Monday to privatize the air traffic control system, according to White House officials, as he pivots to an ambitious plan to rebuild America’s highways, bridges, seaports and airports.
The bold move to dislodge air traffic control (ATC) from the Federal Aviation Administration and create a quasi-independent, nonprofit corporation to do the job is a fitting kickoff for Mr. Trump’s weeklong focus on his infrastructure agenda.
Like the rest of the plan, it is more government reform than spending spree and faces furious pushback form the left and the Washington establishment.
The president views rebuilding infrastructure, which was a prominent campaign promise, as key to his agenda for creating jobs and growing the economy, said Gary Cohn, director of the president’s National Economic Council.
“Whether it be roads, rail, ports, airports, broadband — it affects you and we know many of these areas are falling behind, affecting economic growth in the United States,” said Mr. Cohn, who previewed the rollout for reporters.
Mr. Trump is shifting to infrastructure while his efforts at replacing Obamacare and tax reform make slow progress in Congress.
U.S. air traffic control is the largest and most complex system of its kind in the world. As with much of America’s infrastructure, however, ATC is aging and in bad need of modernization.
“There are enormous benefits for all U.S. citizens in doing this and we are very excited about this,” said Mr. Cohn.
A non-government ATC, he said, will save money for passengers, upgrade the system from land-based radar to a GPS system and improve efficiency and safety.
Critics warn that privatization could risk safety and national security. They argue that this could lead to the creation of a mega company dominated by major airlines and there would be little incentive for it to support general aviation and rural airports.
Privatizing ATC has been on conservatives’ wish list for decades but the idea has never gained traction.
Rep. Bill Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, advanced an aviation bill last year that would have created a private, nonprofit corporation to run ATC. The Pennsylvania Republican’s bill stalled when it hit powerful opposition from business aircraft operators, private pilots and rural and community airports.
“There is money to make sure rural airports get protected,” Mr. Cohn said of the administration’s plan.
At a Rose Garden event Monday, Mr. Trump will announce a set of legislative principles for an overhaul of air traffic control that he is sending to Congress.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to deliver remarks Wednesday beside the Ohio River in Kentucky to highlight plans for long-overdue upgrades to inland waterways. He will hold listening sessions Thursday at the White House with governors and mayors, and end the week at the Department of Transportation talking about highway and railway projects.
The president’s budget proposal included $200 billion for an infrastructure program that is supposed to leverage a total public-private investment of $1 trillion over 10 years.
Central to the plan are proposals to slash regulations and streamline permits, cutting the average approval process for highway projects and other major construction from 10 years to two years or less.
“It’s not just time lost. Time is money,” said Mr. Cohn. “The cost of infrastructure goes up dramatically as time goes on in the approval process.”