President Donald Trump has proposed an overhaul of the nation’s air traffic control system that would spin it away from the Federal Aviation Administration. It would create an independent nonprofit board to oversee the system that would consist of representatives from the airlines, unions, general aviation and airports.
The Trump administration is putting its support behind an already existing plan by House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster. The Shuster plan has been described by some conservatives as a giveaway to the air traffic controller unions. Many critics of the legislation are concerned that the unions would maintain their power. However, some claim those fears are unfounded.
There are also objections that have been raised by conservatives that this plan would raise taxes. The claim is because the air traffic control system would be financed by user fees charged to airlines. The airlines would of course pass those costs to the customers in the form of higher ticket prices. But is this a real objection? After all, unlike most taxes, these higher costs would only be paid by people who fly. This principle is more like toll roads. If you don’t want to pay the higher airline tickets, don’t fly.
But it is inaccurate to call this plan “privatization” as many on the left do. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi denounced Trump’s “privatization” as handing control of the nation’s assets to “special interests and big airlines.”
But as FEE.org’s Jeffrey Tucker points out, this is not a real privatization action. He notes that government will still be very involved with every step of the air traffic control spin off.
It’s a new government-backed nonprofit organization, overseen by government with government officials on the board.
It will probably be in a better position than the current government bureaucracy to be adaptive and that could translate to a better experience for consumers, eventually.
Again, that’s probably an improvement. It’s certainly not privatization. It looks more like what happened to the US post office: it became the US postal service, with independent operations and financing. Again, maybe an improvement. But this is not the new permissioning of competition, market-based pricing, or free enterprise. Not anywhere close to it.
The U.S. air traffic control system needs to be fixed. The system relies on equipment that dates back over 40 years in many instances. Over 50 countries have already spun off their air traffic control systems into independent agencies.
The Trump air traffic control plan may not lead to a better system, but it is inaccurate to call it “privatization.”