President plans to privatize air traffic control

By Brenda Flanagan

“Today we’re proposing to take American air travel into the future, finally,” said President Donald Trump.

A soaring vision from the president about his proposal to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system — turning it over to a nonprofit corporation that would upgrade how America routes some 50,000 daily flights across the nation — a task Trump says the FAA has failed to finish.

“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,” Trump said.

Under the plan, 38,000 FAA staffers, including 14,000 air traffic controllers, would be transferred to a nonprofit corporation run by a 13-member board drawn predominantly from the airline industry. It would modernize the current radar-and-voice air traffic control system to the new GPS-based digital model called NextGen — funded by “user fees.” What’s that mean?

“Everything’s going to get passed through to the passengers,” Frank Steinberg of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition said.

Steinberg says one study by Delta — the only major airline to oppose the plan — shows user fees could boost airfares 20 to 29 percent.

“Human nature being what it is, I have to think that the airlines ultimately are going to do things in the interest of the airlines,” said Steinberg.

Steinberg admits that while the current ATC system is older and not always perfect, it keeps air travelers safe through some of the world’s most complex air corridors in the U.S.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Steinberg said. “You still, at the end of the day, have a system that works quite well and it accommodates all of the users.”

Among Jersey lawmakers, Congressman Donald Payne Jr. slammed the plan, stating it “ … would hand over America’s skies to a private corporation, free of charge. The president is desperate for a legislative win, and he’s willing to gamble our national security and safety for it.”

But Congressman Frank LoBiondo said he looked forward to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s testimony on the proposal and “impact on our skies, safety and South Jersey.”

Meanwhile, more than 40 air traffic controllers work at Newark Liberty and their union, which lost the right to strike back in the 80s, offered cautious support, saying “ … We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the air traffic control (ATC) reform legislation so we can evaluate whether it satisfies our union’s principles, including protecting the rights and benefits of the ATC workforce.”

All sides are eager for details. Congressional hearings are scheduled for this week.