2017060903.mp3

With all the attention paid to the testimony of former FBI director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, you may have missed the story the Trump administration really wanted to highlight: Infrastructure.

As part of what the White House called “Infrastructure Week,” President Donald Trump made a series of announcements on infastructure, including on a plan aimed at improving air travel.

“We’re proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays. Our plan will get you where you need to go more quickly, more reliably, more affordably. And yes, for the first time in a long time: on time,” the president said on Monday.

How, exactly, does Trump plan to do that?

By privatizing air traffic control.

“What the president is proposing to do it to take about 30,000 employees that work… at the Federal Aviation Administration and spin them off, essentially, into a private, non-profit organization,” said  Dr. Ashley Nunes, a research scientist at MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics.

Nunes says turning a government entity into a nonprofit organization could mean savings for travelers.

“If the new organization makes any money, that money either has to be reinvested to make travel better for the flying public, or ... be returned to people who paid for it — in this case the airlines — which in turn drives down fees,” Nunes said.

The plan would rely on fees paid by aircraft operators.

Nunes says the new entity would also have more flexibility to invest in newer technology in a timely manner, which could improve flight delays.

“Currently it is very difficult for the government to buy technology and deploy that technology in a timely manner. And when we think about all the delays that we experience when airplanes are sitting on the tarmac, many of those delays are the result of not having the right technology at the right place, at the right time,” Nunes said.

The US would not be the first to privatize its air traffic control.

About 60 countries, including Canada, have taken similar measures.

“All indications suggest that they have worked pretty well. Multiple reports — both from government institutions as well as private institutions — show that that cost airlines pay for buying the air traffic control service has gone down over the last 20 years or so – by 20 to 40 percent.”

Trump’s plan has faced some criticism, including from Democrats, who say the move is unnecessary. Delta Air Lines has also opposed the move, saying it's as likely to raise prices as lower them.

From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI