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White House Budget Embraces Air Traffic Control Reform

This morning, the White House released its 2018 budget blueprint. The Trump administration proposes a 12.7 percent decrease in Department of Transportation spending relative to fiscal year 2017, accomplished in part by reducing Amtrak subsidies, transit grants, and eliminating the Essential Air Service. But the most important cut is the administration’s embrace of air traffic control reform (p. 35):

Initiates a multi-year reauthorization proposal to shift the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent, non-governmental organization, making the system more efficient and innovative while maintaining safety. This would benefit the flying public and taxpayers overall.

These savings won’t materialize immediately, but the end result of this multi-year process is spinning off the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization into an independent nonprofit similar to the successful Nav Canada structure, which has been operating for two decades. These reforms were proposed last year by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and are supported by a broad coalition that includes much of the aviation industry, transportation researchers, and former officials from the last five presidential administrations. Once the transition is complete, we can expect the FAA’s post-reform budget to be slashed by approximately two-thirds, which is the share of the agency’s budget currently dedicated to air traffic control operations, facilities, and modernization investments.

As I’ve noted in the past, adopting the Shuster reforms is the only viable path to moving America’s ancient air traffic control system into the 21st century. For more on what is on the table, see CEI’s “Air Traffic Control Reform: FAQ.”