- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2017

President Trump unveiled a plan Monday to privatize the country’s air traffic control system, part of his push for a major overhaul of America’s highways, bridges, waterways and airports.

Cutting the air traffic control (ATC) loose from the bureaucracy of the Federal Aviation Administration would hasten technological upgrades and make flights “quicker, safer and more affordable,” the president said.

“Today we are proposing to take American air travel into the future — finally, finally. It’s been a long time,” Mr. Trump said in the East Room, where he gathered representatives of the airlines, unions, airports and flying public to demonstrate the broad support for the plan.

The current system, which was designed generations ago, causes delays at airports, long wait times on the tarmac and the dangerous routine of airplanes circling airports waiting to land, all of which adds of to billions of dollars in wasted time and money, Mr. Trump said.

“We are proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays,” he said. “Our plans 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.”

Under the plan, air traffic control would be operated by a private, nonprofit and self-financed corporation. The federal government would eliminate all the taxes currently paid to support ATC and allow the new corporation to impose user fees.

The ATC proposal kicked off Mr. Trump’s weeklong focus on his infrastructure agenda. Like the rest of the agenda, it is more government reform than spending spree and faces furious pushback from 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.

Privatizing ATC has been on conservatives’ wish list for decades, but the idea has never gained traction.

This time is different, said a White House official, because the stars have aligned with Republicans in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

The official even described the privatization of massive ATC system as “low-hanging fruit.”

Still, the proposal faces tough opposition from the left and Capitol Hill Democrats, who say the air traffic control plan is just the first step in Mr. Trump’s push to privatize the country’s highways, bridges and other infrastructure.

“The entire focus of the president’s infrastructure ‘proposal’ is on privatization, which sounds like a nice word but when you scratch beneath the surface it means much less construction and far fewer jobs, particularly in rural areas,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

The U.S. would join dozens of countries that have privatized ATC, including state-of-the-art systems in Canada and Australia.

Critics warn that privatization could risk safety and national security, and threaten creating a mega-company dominated by major airlines with little incentive to support general aviation and rural airports.

Mr. Trump stressed that the plan would safeguard rural and community airports, as well as increase use of airspace across the country through upgrading to GPS.

U.S. air traffic control is the largest, most complex and safest system of its kind in the world. As with much of America’s infrastructure, however, it is aging and in bad need of modernization. A top priority in the president’s plan to put a private, nonprofit corporation in charge is complete an upgrade from land-based radar to a GPS system that would be safer and more efficient.

“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,” Mr. Trump said.

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