White House Budget Calls for ATC Privatization

By S.L. Fuller | March 17, 2017
Send Feedback

budget blueprint

Image courtesy of the White House

The White House’s fiscal year 2018 Budget Blueprint calls for the privatization of air traffic control (ATC).

“The President’s 2018 Budget 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,” the document says. “This would benefit the flying public and taxpayers overall.”


Polarization on the issue is present in the aviation community as a whole. The privatization argument is, in large part, backed by commercial airlines. Other major associations, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn. (AOPA), National Business Aviation Assn. (NBAA) and Helicopter Assn. International (HAI), have openly opposed privatization.

“HAI members currently enjoy a good relationship with and high level of service from the air traffic control division of the FAA, which is universally acknowledged as the safest and most efficient system in the world,” said Matthew Zuccaro, president and CEO of HAI, in a statement. “It would appear that the primary rationale for this initiative is the airlines’ desire to gain control of the airspace, which is not in the best interest of other aviation stakeholders. The turnover of control of the National Airspace System to the airlines represents a clear conflict of interest. As the dominant force on the proposed governing board of the new ATC entity, the airlines stand to gain the most by focusing on their particular needs.”

In HAI’s official released opinion on the topic, Zuccaro went on the note that he feels the current system provides an “appropriate level of focus on the unique need sof the helicopter industry." One of the main questions privatization would pose revolves around the future of the NextGen initiative. Would privatization allow the helicopter industry to have a substantial voice in the matter? Or would airlines completely take over the conversation?

“Placing control of ATC into a private corporation dominated by the airlines has the potential to steer resources and investments toward airline-centric needs, potentially reducing general aviation access to certain airspace and airports while also negatively affecting the needs of rural America,” said Zuccaro.

For the Transportation Dept. in general, the White House’s blueprint shows a 13% decrease from the 2017 annualized continuing resolution (CR). The White House would request $16.2 billion for the Transportation Dept.'s discretionary budget. Other budgetary items outlined for the department include cutting funding for the Federal Transit Admin.'s Capital Investment Program (New Starts), eliminating funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) program and eliminating funding for the TIGER discretionary grant program. The overall budget also claims to provide for “one of the largest increases in defense spending without increasing the debt.”

“Our Budget Blueprint insists on $54 billion in reductions to non-Defense programs. We are going to do more with less, and make the Government lean and accountable to the people,” President Donald Trump’s opening address in the document read. “This includes deep cuts to foreign aid. It is time to prioritize the security and well-being of Americans, and to ask the rest of the world to step up and pay its fair share. Many other Government agencies and departments will also experience cuts. These cuts are sensible and rational. Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people. I look forward to engaging the Congress and enacting this America First Budget.”

Receive the latest rotorcraft news right to your inbox