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Infrastructure Week Begins With Air Traffic Control Modernization

Infrastructure Week 2017 kicked-off Monday with the announcement that the president plans to privatize air traffic control. It won't be the first attempt at modernizing the antiquated system. Additional events planned Wednesday through Friday.
June 7, 2017, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Thomas Barrat

It is widely agreed that the country's air traffic control (ATC) system is badly in need of modernization. That's why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, developed the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen): to transform from a system using radar to one based on satellite communication.

"GPS technology will be used to shorten routes, save time and fuel, reduce traffic delays, increase capacity, and permit controllers to monitor and manage aircraft with greater safety margins," according to Wikipedia.

What's gone wrong, though, is that NextGen is taking too long, as posts from 2010 and 2012 would indicate.

"[A] a government audit released last year blasted the agency for a number of unnecessary delays and inefficiencies in getting it done," reports Alexia Fernández Campbell for Vox. Politics may be largely to blame. And Trump's solution would appear to just continue the political debate.

The nation’s largest air carriers have been lobbying for such a change for years, but Republicans in Congress have failed to get enough support to pass a bill. Democrats have been resistant in handing over control of the airways to big businesses. 

What Trump proposed at an event Monday at the White House was to inject his own politics into the equation—proposing to privatize air traffic control by transferring "ATC operations from the FAA to a not-for-profit, non-government entity," reports Emily Tillett for CBS News.

The administration is proposing that Congress pass legislation that would allow the U.S. to implement this model, which is already used in over 50 countries, including Canada and Australia.

"Trump's plan closely resembles one introduced several years ago by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R) of Pennsylvania who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee," reports Laura Olson for The Morning Call.

But opponents worry that the plan — which would require congressional approval — will give too much power to the airline industry.

The D.C.-based National Air Traffic Controllers Association had supported Shuster's bill and says it will review the expected legislation to evaluate how it would affect its workforce.

Another major issue is how much will it cost, and who pays for it. "Trump says the plan would save taxpayers from funding air traffic operations and would be paid with 'no tax money' at all," reports Fernández Campbell. Citing a Congressional Budget Office report, she adds:

It’s very likely that under Trump’s plan, consumers will continue footing most of the bill for these operations, which will now be more expensive.

Remaining itinerary for Infrastructure Week 2017

On Wednesday, President Trump will head to the Ohio River region to address inland waterway improvements.

"Although the White House did not say exactly where Trump will appear, administration officials are considering a major speech in Cincinnati to highlight the need to rebuild locks and dams on the nation’s rivers, a crucial requirement for shipping goods such as farm products," reports Jack Torry for The Columbus Dispatch.

According to the White House, "[o]n Thursday, a Governors and Mayors listening session will be held to ensure that the Administration’s policies on infrastructure align with the states’ specific needs. The session will cover issues such as rural infrastructure, permitting reform, transformative projects, drinking and wastewater, transportation, and energy."

On Friday, "the President will sign an executive order to improve the efficiency and timeliness of America’s infrastructure projects."

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

Full Story:
Published on Monday, June 5, 2017 in Vox
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