Trump says nation's air traffic control system will enter "new era of aviation"

Last Updated Jun 5, 2017 8:23 AM EDT

In an effort to follow through with a campaign promise to improve U.S. infrastructure, President Trump introduced his plan to privatize the nation's air traffic control system.

"This is the first important step to clearing the runway for more jobs, lower prices and much much much better transportation," said Mr. Trump. 

He added, "America is the nation that pioneered air travel and with these reforms. We can once again lead the way -- our nation will move faster, fly higher, and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation."

The move, which was part of Mr. Trump's budget blueprint, proposes a shifting of air traffic control (ATC) operations from the FAA to a not-for-profit, non-government entity. The administration is proposing that Congress pass legislation that would allow the U.S. to implement this model, which is already used in over 50 countries, including Canada and Australia.

The new ATC entity must be fully and financially self-sufficient through the collection of user fees that cover both its costs of operations and recapitalization. 

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said instituting an independent entity to help transform the FAA will help the ATC "separate from the red tape" and in turn "end a cycle of delay and disruption."

Mr. Trump says the plan will also maintain support for rural communities and air fields used by Air National Guard units. Air traffic controllers will have "more financial security, professional opportunities, and far superior equipment, the best equipment in the world."

Airlines have previously lobbied for the change, citing the FAA's NextGen program, to modernize air traffic systems is taking too long and has so far produced little results. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents the FAA's 14,000 controllers, also backed the move to privatize.

In Congress, Mr. Trump will have an ally in Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania. Shuster had pressed Mr. Trump to back privatization during the campaign and had sponsored an aviation bill that would remove air traffic operations from the FAA and place them under control of a private corporation.

Speaking after the event on Monday, Shuster applauded Mr. Trump's leadership in following through on the reforms, and said he is "challenging the old ways of thinking in Washington" and that "complacency is innovations greatest threat."

But many Democrats in Congress largely oppose the measure, according to the Associated Press, and warn that airline interests would dominate the proposed board.  

The AP also notes that business aircraft operators, private pilots and non-hub airports have expressed concern that "they may pay more and receive less service under a private corporation." But airlines have said this will not happen.

At a briefing for infrastructure reporters on Saturday, Trump's Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn said that spinning off air traffic control from the FAA would be an "enormous benefit" for all U.S. businesses and would improve safety by separating ATC functions from the safety regulator at the FAA.

"We will be speeding up the implementation of NextGen air traffic control, going from a land-based radar system to a much more accurate and precise GPS-based system.  We're really moving into the modern decade of technology and aircraft control."

A senior administration official would not provide exact timing of rolling out any legislation, but called it a "top priority."

Mr. Trump is expected to push for new investment in roads, waterways and other infrastructure modernization proposals all week. The efforts are the first since Mr. Trump returned from his first foreign overseas trip, and as Congress and the special counsel moves forward with their ongoing investigations into Russian meddling of the 2016 election, which has overshadowed the administration's progress toward instituting major reforms.

Mr. Trump will continue unveil new infrastructure plans, traveling to Ohio and Kentucky on Wednesday to discuss waterway improvements. On Thursday, he will invite governors and mayors across the country to the White House for a listening session on infrastructure improvements. 

The live blog of the event is below.


Trump signs memo flanked by Transportation secretaries, lawmakers

The even concludes amid a round of laughs and debates over who receives the president's pen. Mr. Trump signs a decision memo and a letter transmitting the legislative principles related to air traffic control reform to Congress. 

Trump reflects on other countries that have implemented similar reforms

"This is the first important step to clearing the runway for more jobs lower prices and much much much better transportation," says Mr. Trump. 

He adds, "America is the nation that pioneered air travel and with these reforms we can once again lead the way our nation will move faster fly higher and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation."

Air traffic control reforms to make flights "quicker and more reliable"

"These reforms are supported by air traffic controllers themselves, they know it better than anybody," says Mr. Trump. 

The plan will be to have "one great company to piece this all together", in the form of a self-financing nonprofit entity that "will not need tax payer money." 

"The FAA will focus on what it does best; safety.  A separate non-profit entity will ensure route efficiency, timely service and reduction of delays," says Mr. Trump. 

Mr. Trump says the plan will also maintain support for rural communities and air fields used by air national guard units. Mr. Trump notes that air traffic controllers will have "more financial security, professional opportunities, and far superior equipment, the best equipment in the world."

Trump slams Obama administration's past attempts to upgrade system

Mr. Trump says under the Obama White House, the administration spent "$7 billion dollars trying to upgrade the system and totally failed, they didn't know what the hell they were doing." Mr. Trump urges supporters that it's "time to join the future."

Trump outlines "air travel revolution"

Mr. Trump says the reforms being put forth will result in "reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays." He adds, "Our plan will get you where you need to go more affordable and on time." Mr. Trump says the current air traffic control system can not keep up and results in flight delays and crippling inefficiencies and is "stuck painfully in the past."

"We're still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated system that doesn't work, other than that it's pretty good.

Trump shifts topic to Veterans Affairs

Mr. Trump says VA Secretary David Shulkin has announced the VA will modernize its medical records to use same system as the Department of Defense. "no more complications," says Mr. Trump. The records, according to Mr. Trump,  will now be able to follow the vet when they leave service, "meaning far better quality care" in what he called "monumental reform."

Mr. Trump: "We prepare to enter a great new era of American aviation"

"It's about time," Mr. Trump says about the proposed reforms. 

Vice President Mike Pence opens with remarks

"Welcome to the beginning of a new era for American infrastructure," says Pence. Pence hails Mr. Trump's efforts to improveme the U.S. economy saying, "Thanks to Donald Trump, America is back." Pence adds that by "electing a builder" he will help encourage job creation and institute reforms that will ensure the safety of air traffic controllers. 

Trump cabinet arrives in East Room for air traffic control event

At the President's Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative, he will be accompanied by former Transportation secretaries Jim Burnley, Mary Peters, Elizabeth Dole, and current secretary Elaine Chao.

 

 

  • Emily Tillett

    Emily Tillett is a politics reporter and video editor for CBS News Digital