President Trump called the U.S. air-traffic system “obsolete” in comments that were cheered by proponents of taking the job of monitoring the skies away from the government.
President Trump called the U.S. air-traffic system “obsolete” Thursday in comments that were cheered by proponents of taking the job of monitoring the skies away from the government.
Trump, speaking at a meeting of airline executives and other aviation-industry officials, made the strongest comments to date from the White House on problems with the air-traffic system. He echoed what has been said by lawmakers and executives who favor placing the air-traffic system in the hands of a nonprofit corporation.
“I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack,” Trump said at the meeting.
Earlier he said: “And I can tell you that a lot of the new equipment that’s ordered is obsolete the day they order it. And that’s according to people that know, including my pilot.”
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The president’s words — which also included an apparent broadside aimed at the head of the Federal Aviation Administration — drew rapid praise from airlines that favor splitting air-traffic from the FAA. Such a measure was included last year in House legislation setting FAA policy, but it stalled in the Senate and wasn’t included in the final bill. Congress is taking up the matter again this year.
Opponents of spinning off air-traffic control say the plan would give too much oversight to airlines, the government should maintain control for national-security reasons and the existing system isn’t broken.
“We are grateful to President Trump for hosting this meeting and were encouraged by his in-depth understanding of our industry and the need to reform our air-traffic control system,” said Nicholas Calio, chief executive officer of Airlines for America, which represents large carriers.
JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes, who attended the meeting, said he found Trump’s comments about the need to modernize the system “extremely encouraging.”
Trump’s unorthodox, outsider view of government was also on display when he asked about the FAA administrator, who serves a five-year term that won’t expire until next year.
“Is the head of the FAA a pilot, does anybody know?” Trump asked.
After being told the FAA chief isn’t, Trump said he should be.
Michael Huerta, who has served in other government positions and was a managing director of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, has held the top job at the FAA since January 2013.
The state of the nation’s air-traffic system and the need for reform are highly controversial. Delta Air Lines split from Airlines for America in part over the issue because the company believes the U.S. system functions well.
Trump also hinted that he may intervene in the FAA’s efforts to modernize the system, a program known as NextGen, just as he has done with Defense Department contracts including the F-35 fighter.
“I mean, it’s one thing to order equipment, but let’s order the right equipment,” Trump said in reference to unspecified aviation and airport systems.
While the FAA didn’t respond directly to the president’s comments, it issued a statement later Thursday calling its efforts to upgrade air-traffic “successful” and outlining benefits airlines have enjoyed in recent years from the new technology. The airlines have helped set the agenda for the system, the agency said. The FAA said it has spent $7.5 billion on NextGen, and the investment “has resulted in $2.7 billion in benefits to passengers and the airlines to date and is expected to yield more than $160 billion in benefits through 2030.”
Trump says he’ll help U.S. airlines
President Trump told U.S. airlines he would help them compete with foreign carriers that are aided by their governments, a signal of White House support for an industry campaign that began in 2015.
“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” Trump said at a White House meeting Thursday with the nation’s largest airlines, airfreight companies and airports.
“I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”
Active involvement by Trump would answer two years of prodding by Delta Air Lines, United Continental and American Airlines to act on claims that $50 billion in government support have enabled three Persian Gulf carriers to compete unfairly.
While Trump didn’t name individual foreign companies, the U.S. airlines last week asked to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to discuss their allegations against Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.
Trump didn’t say what steps he might consider in regard to alleged aid. He said he’d seek to help domestic carriers while also encouraging investment by foreign airlines in the United States.
“We want to make life good for them also,” he said. “They come with big investments. In many cases, those investments are made by their governments, but they are still big investments.”