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

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 It’s true that our current air traffic control system is outdated, and the FAA has been working for years on an upgraded, GPS-based system called NextGen.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.


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


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.


Support our journalism

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


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.