President Trump made clear his support of the privatization model during “infrastructure week” in June, 2017. In letters sent to Congress, the President called out his approval to move air traffic control authority away from the Federal Aviation Administration and into the hands of a private corporation governed by a select Board of Directors.
To understand why this would be necessary we must first travel back to 2004 when the Department of Transportation drafted an official plan for NextGen: the Next Generation Air Transportation System. This initiative was set into motion in order to advance the manner in which planes communicate with one another and with airports.
To date, the airspace in the United States relies on ground-based RADAR technology that dates back to World War II. One advantage of NextGen is its use of a satellite-based global positioning system that can bypass a human air traffic controller to inform pilots and airports of nearby traffic. Companies like FedEx have already implemented other NextGen advances such as Wake Turbulence Recategorization or ReCat for short, which helps planes avoid traveling through another plane’s wake.
In 2004, the FAA was given 26 years to roll out NextGen to all airports and aircraft with funding by Congress and layers of government approvals required along the way. Since then, both Canada and the U.K. have implemented similar systems. Hence the President’s directive to use privatization to bring this aviation program to market faster.
The terms of how the governing board would be structured include a specific list of initial members who would then elect additional members and would have the right to impose user fees. The FAA would still be responsible for securing our air space but questions remain as to how the billions needed to complete a national NextGen rollout will be generated.