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State of the Union: What the president didn't say about ATC privatizationState of the Union: What the president didn't say about ATC privatization

From a general aviation standpoint, what is most telling about President Donald Trump’s Jan. 30 State of the Union speech is what was not said. There was no mention of a plan to remove the air traffic control system from the FAA and hand it over to a board of special interests.

President Trump during his 2018 State of the Union Address. Official White House photo by Shealah Craighead.

During the 80-minute speech, Trump called on Congress to develop a $1.5 trillion-dollar transportation package to help rebuild our nation’s aging infrastructure. The president said this could be done with “American heart, American hands, and American grit.” He also called on Congress to streamline the approval process suggesting that the Empire State Building was built within one year and that today a simple road takes 10 years to construct due to all the permitting and red tape. The White House is expected to release its infrastructure principles within the next few weeks. How to fund this proposal will be the most difficult to resolve, but Congress will need to develop legislation, which will also require a funding mechanism, pass it in both chambers, and send to the president for his signature. That's a tall order given the strong partisanship currently in Washington, D.C.

Despite calling for ATC to be removed from the FAA at last year’s June White House announcement, Trump has remained largely silent on the issue. While H.R. 2997, legislation that would turn ATC over to a board controlled by special interests, hasn’t garnered enough support to bring to the House floor, general aviation organizations and a growing chorus of other organizations including labor unions, consumer groups, and others, continue to fight hard against it. In fact, AOPA members have contacted Congress nearly 200,000 times opposing the legislation, though the battle is not yet over.  

The president’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposal is due for submission to Congress on Feb. 12, and those in opposition to ATC privatization will be watching closely to see if the president’s budget proposal includes removing the ATC function from the federal government and handing it over to a private entity run by a 13-member board of special interests. In addition, the legal authority for the FAA to continue operating expires on March 31, and Congress will need to act on legislation to extend this authority.  

“Unfortunately, this is not over yet,” said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Advocacy Jim Coon. “Although there hasn’t been enough votes to pass this in the House for nearly two years and there is no consensus to do this, and the proposal won’t reduce delays or increase capacity, and quite frankly, many members of Congress have fatigue about the issue and just want it to go away, we have to keep fighting those who continue to pursue this.

"Today, we have the largest, most complex, and safest system in the world, and we must work on issues that unite us, not divide us, so we can keep it that way. We are still encouraging folks to reach out to their elected representatives and urging them to oppose H.R. 2997. We’ll keep supporting modernization of our ATC system, and we’ll keep fighting against the formation of a private ATC monopoly run by commercial interests.”

AOPA Communications staff

Topics: Advocacy, Capitol Hill, ATC

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