| WASHINGTON, June 7
WASHINGTON, June 7 The United States' top
transportation official on Wednesday promoted the Trump
administration's proposed privatization of the air traffic
control system in the face of criticism from Democratic
lawmakers and some Republicans.
"Our air traffic organization must be more nimble," U.S.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told the Senate Commerce
Committee. "A bulky federal government procurement apparatus
does not move fast enough to keep pace with new technologies and
President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled the plan to
modernize air traffic control and lower flying costs. Under the
proposal, air traffic control would be spun off from the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) and put under the aegis of a
Critics say the plan would hand control of a key asset to
special interests and big airlines.
Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said on
Wednesday that small airports in his state oppose the plan. He
said that after air traffic privatization in the United Kingdom
airline passenger fees rose 30 percent. "This is a tough sell,"
Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, said he remains
"skeptical" of the idea of removing Congress from air traffic
control oversight and handing it to a 13-member board.
The administration says it would not charge the private
entity for the government's air traffic control assets and would
bar Congress from reviewing fees charged by the board.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, opposes the
proposal. "Why give away billions of dollars in government
assets to an entity that will be governed in large part by the
airlines?" he asked.
Nelson argued "a fundamental breakup of the FAA cannot
advance when there are such strong divisions among aviation
stakeholders and in Congress. It just won't happen."
Chao denied that the major airlines would control the board
and said they would have just two seats on the board.
She also pledged to address rural concerns. One big issue is
whether general aviation could face higher costs and access to
airspace if a private board takes over.
Executives from United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines
Inc, American Airlines Inc and Southwest
Airlines Co, all represented by the Airlines for America
lobbying group, praised the Trump plan on Monday.
The FAA spends nearly $10 billion a year on air traffic
control funded largely through passenger user fees, and has
spent more than $7.5 billion on next-generation air traffic
control reforms in recent years.
It is unclear whether privatization would speed the rollout
of new systems such as satellite-based aircraft tracking that
replaces ground radar dating back to World War Two.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)