WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is seeking to shift one of the federal government's most vital safety functions – making sure airplanes reach their destinations safely – outside government hands, according to his new budget proposal.
The president's proposal calls for moving "the air traffic control function" of the Federal Aviation Administration and its 14,000 controllers "to an independent, non-governmental organization." The plan says, "This would benefit the flying public and the taxpayers overall."
Airline executives, citing government inefficiencies and lagging technology efforts, have long pushed to privatize the nation's air traffic control system, and they pressed their case in a White House meeting with Trump last month. The idea is opposed by some Senate Republicans.
The president's 2018 budget, outlines of which were released Thursday, also seeks to stop federal funding of many new transit projects, saying local governments should take the lead.
Despite Trump's push for new spending on transportation and other infrastructure, his $16.2 billion proposed Transportation Department budget represents a 13 percent decline from current funding. A host of rural and urban communities nationwide would lose popular programs.
The plan would end federal support for Amtrak's long-distance train service, which budget documents said "incur the vast majority of Amtrak's operating losses. This would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train services."
The core of the Northeast Corridor stretches from Washington, D.C., to Boston, though that term also encompasses several other offshoots.
Amtrak officials have long resisted calls to pare back service to just the most heavily traveled routes, saying people throughout the country deserve the benefits of a nationwide train system. Among the long-distance routes Amtrak runs as are the Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Seattle.
Trump's budget also eliminates funding for the Essential Air Service, which subsidizes flights to rural airports. Many of the flights are "not full" and have high per-passenger costs, according to the proposal. The cut would save $175 million.
The Federal Transit Administration's Capital Investment Program, known as "New Starts," would also be curtailed. Only projects that are already locked in with formal federal commitments, known as "full funding grant agreements," would get money.
The budget would also cut nearly a half-billion dollars from one of the most popular federal transportation programs, known as TIGER grants. The department has wide discretion in awarding the competitive grants, which have funded highway improvements in South Dakota and a rail station in Rhode Island, among dozens of other projects.