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Kansas’ Congressional Leaders React To Trump’s Plan to Privatize Air Traffic Controllers

The control tower at the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.

Congressman Ron Estes of Kansas wants to protect the needs of general aviation when it comes to President Trump’s plan to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran is concerned that the plan will hurt small airports.

The president says the reforms would modernize the system and make it safer and more reliable.

Estes said in a statement that he shares President Trump’s desire to improve travel in the U.S. but also wants the plan to protect the needs of general aviation.

“I share President Trump’s desire to make travel in America’s airspace safer, more efficient and technologically advanced," Estes says. "However, any plans for privatization of our air traffic control system must also take into consideration the impact on general aviation. Wichita is the Air Capital of the World and we have pioneered general aviation for decades. Any updates to America's air traffic control system must ensure the safety of American air passengers and protect the needs of general aviation. I look forward to reviewing the proposal laid out by the President today.”

Commercial airlines are supporting the privatization plan, and opponents are concerned the new system would be dominated by airline interests.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas is concerned the plan would hurt small communities.

“Proposals to privatize air traffic control threaten the reliable transportation options provided by small airports and the general aviation community for millions of Americans," Moran says. "All but our largest airports nationwide stand to be hurt by this proposal. Privatization eliminates the chance for Congress and the American people to provide oversight, creates uncertainty in the marketplace and is likely to raise costs for consumers.”

Trump’s plan would create a private, non-profit corporation to manage air traffic control operations nationwide with the Federal Aviation Administration continuing to provide oversight of the system.

Trump said during a White House announcement Monday that the current system is "stuck painfully in the past.” He says, "Today, we're proposing to take American air travel into the future. Finally."

FAA officials say the agency has made progress during the past decade in updating its computers and other equipment.

Trump's plan would also eliminate taxes on airline passengers in favor of user fees. Key members of tax-writing committees have questioned whether corporations can legally impose fees, which can be viewed as taxes, on air traffic system users.

Business aircraft operators, private pilots and non-hub airports have also expressed concerns they may pay more and receive less service under a private corporation. The airlines have promised that won't happen.

A non-profit, non-partisan coalition called Alliance for Aviation Across America (AAAA) is against the privatization plan.

It says under a privatized air traffic control system, industry and other stakeholders would be able to direct investments and resources and set taxes and fees to benefit stakeholders’ bottom line, instead of the public good.

“Privatization of air traffic control has been opposed by local mayors and elected officials, businesses, consumer groups, rural and agricultural organizations, and the majority of Americans – for good cause,” said Selena Shilad, Executive Director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America. “This risky proposal would add to our national deficit, threaten access to small towns and rural communities, decimate small businesses with new, unnecessary user fees; and, give the big airlines even more power over our air transportation system at a time when they are actually in need of greater oversight.”

Trump is laying out his plans as part of a larger focus on improving the country's infrastructure.

There are about 50,000 airline and other aircraft flights a day in the United States.


Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.