Trump to Privatize Air Traffic Control – Bring It On!

air_traffic_control_-_Google_SearchBy David Nelson, CFA

I’m at 33,000 feet aboard Jet Blue’s flight from JFK to Albuquerque New Mexico. After sitting on the taxi way number 26 for take-off and a 90 minute delay I thought the timing was perfect to put together some talking points regarding the President’s proposal to move Air Traffic Control from the FAA toward privatization.

Bring it on

As a general aviation commercial pilot who flies often with Airline and ex-military pilots I can tell you the time is right for such a move. Next Generation Technology that could modernize our Air Traffic Control System has long been a focus of both the FAA and airlines but the process continues to fall behind schedule. Airlines have long believed Air Traffic Control should be in the hands of the private sector.

Free from the potential lack of funding every government agency deals with, moving the system into private hands could dramatically speed up the process.

The current system is based on 1940’s radar technology and isn’t ready to keep up with the increased demands of rapidly expanding airline capacity.

Like most major proposals supporters and critics are lining up to debate the merits of the President’s proposal. To be sure there are pros and cons.


  • Takes the funding out of the budget process where needed dollars get diverted to other projects
  • Would speed up the rollout of next generation technology critical for ATC to keep pace with increased airline capacity
  • The Washington Post reports that union leaders for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association say; “controllers are tired of working with outdated equipment and are concerned about government shutdowns and furloughs.”


  • Security – There are some valid concerns surrounding security. FAA controllers go through thorough background investigations and of course that would have to be continued under a new system. However, private industry has been involved in top secret government work since the dawn of the republic with employees under significant examination including top secret projects critical to our national defense.

In the end I have to come out on the side of the President. The previous administration plowed $7Billion into improvements of the current system and we’re still falling behind. 

Airlines have been fighting for this for decades. However, if you really want the bottom line talk to the pilots who have to fly millions of passengers every day and ask them what they think is best.

Right out of the gate Southwest Pilots came out in support of the President’s initiative.

The administration’s proposal to privatize ATC is part of a larger theme to join the public and private sector in partnership to improve our infrastructure. My recent op-ed for Breitbart about the FAA’s Airport Privatization Program (Make Airports Great Again With Public-Private Partnerships) is another example of this effort. Already fields like St. Louis International and others are looking to the private sector for needed capital and improvements. 

As you might expect anything to do with the President is going to create a political uproar. Senator Bill Nelson Democrat from Florida has announced he will fight the President saying; “safety of the flying public shouldn’t be for sale.”

As for the winners in such a move I’m not sure we have a clear picture. Many of the major defense contractors are involved in Air Traffic Control. As a matter of fact when I call to file an instrument flight plan or get critical updates on airport and weather advisories I’m talking to Lockheed Martin (LMT).

All in, the changeover is expected to take about 3 years. Projections expecting a billion passengers by 2024 speaks to the need of getting started right now.