Here’s What’s Really Behind the Republican Push to Privatize Air Traffic Control

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

President Trump spent Monday touting his plan to privatize the air traffic control system. I don’t really have a considered opinion on the merits of this. Both private and government-run systems are used elsewhere in the world, and they seem to work about equally well.

However, we should be clear on exactly what the motivation for this move is. It’s true that our current air traffic control system is outdated, and the FAA has been working for years on an upgraded, GPS-based system called NextGen. So what’s the problem? It’s not the technology, it’s the funding. Big airlines want a better air traffic control system, but they’re unhappy that congressional funding is so unreliable. They want the upgrade to receive proper funding so it can get up and running quickly.

You probably know what’s coming next. Republicans in Congress are the roadblock here, because they’re ideologically opposed to raising taxes or fees to fully fund the upgrade. So big airlines want control turned over to a private corporation that would have the authority to raise fees itself. For big airlines, the benefit is that they get the funding they want plus more control over the system. For Republicans, the benefit is that the upgrade gets funded, but without any GOP fingerprints on the tax increase. That’s what this is all about.

POSTSCRIPT: So what might stop Trump’s proposal? Well, a private corporation run by big airlines would almost certainly favor the interests of big city airports. Smaller airports in mid-size cities would likely get the shaft. So senators in states that lack big cities might decide that having a neutral FAA running things is a better bet after all.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.