By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is proposing to switch oversight of US air traffic control from the federal government to an independent group, according to budget documents released Thursday.
Trump, who called the US air traffic control system “outdated” in a meeting with airline executives last month, is proposing $ 16.2 billion for the Department of Transportation’s discretionary budget for the fiscal year. 2018, a reduction of 13 percent.
Some Department of Transportation budget items are paid through the highway gasoline tax fund.
The document says that Trump’s plan “initiates a multi-year reauthorization proposal to move the air traffic control function from the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent non-governmental organization.”
Proponents of privatization argue that turning air traffic control into a non-governmental entity would allow for a more efficient system and rapid and cost-effective technology upgrades, in part by avoiding the public procurement process.
Opponents, including some airlines, say the US system is so large that privatization would not save money, raise ticket costs and could create a national security risk. There are also concerns that airlines dominate the board of directors of private companies and limit access to airports by business jets.
The budget would eliminate $ 175 million in annual funding for Essential Air Service, a program to support commercial air service to rural airports and end subsidies for Amtrak to operate long-distance rail service.
Then Amtrak would “focus on better management” of state-supported lines and service in the busy Northeast corridor, according to the budget document.
The Trump budget would also eliminate the Obama administration’s “TIGER” grant program, saving $ 499 million. That program has been used to fund a variety of transportation projects, including high-speed and intra-city trains, highway construction, and transit bus systems.
The budget calls for cutting the budget of the US space agency NASA by 0.8 percent to $ 19.1 billion. The budget proposes canceling the billion dollar Asteroid Redirection Mission, but funds the development of the Orion crew vehicle and the Space Launch System.
The budget calls for expanding public-private partnerships. NASA has partnerships with Space Exploration Technologies and other companies.
The budget funds a mission to fly to Jupiter’s moon Europa, but cancels a multi-million dollar mission to land on the moon. It would also fund a rover mission to Mars in 2020.
The FAA is spending billions to implement “NextGen,” a system that would use satellites to monitor aircraft instead of radars and make other changes, and has faced implementation challenges.
The FAA said it has spent $ 7.5 billion on NextGen over the past seven years, which “has resulted in $ 2.7 billion in benefits for passengers and airlines to date, and is expected to generate more than $ 160,000. million in benefits until 2030 “.
Last month, Trump criticized spending on NextGen, saying the system was “totally out of control”, over budget and behind schedule.
The FAA handles more than 50,000 flights a day and more than 700 million passengers each year. It spends nearly $ 10 billion a year on air traffic control funded largely through passenger user fees, and it has about 28,000 air traffic control personnel.
Since 1987, several countries have transferred responsibility for air traffic control from national civil aviation authorities to independent, self-financed providers.
The Government Accountability Office said in a 2016 report that the United States “is generally considered to have the most active, complex and safe ATC system in the world.”