(Adds FAA comment)
By Ayesha Rascoe and Alana Wise
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK Feb 9 U.S. President Donald
Trump called the U.S. air traffic control system out of date on
Thursday and criticized its $10 billion yearly price tag but
stopped short of calling for privatization of the program.
"I hear we're spending billions and billions of dollars,
it's a system that's totally out of whack," Trump said during a
picture-taking session at the White House ahead of his sitdown
with airline and airport executives.
His comments heartened advocates of privatization who have
long sought to move away from the system they see as outdated.
"We want to get the government out of the role of managing
the air traffic control system," Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines
Co's chief executive officer, told Trump during the
The Federal Aviation Administration spends nearly $10
billion a year on air traffic control funded largely through
passenger user fees, and has about 28,000 air traffic control
Trump said he had been informed that ongoing modernization
efforts to the air traffic control system were already obsolete
by the pilot of his private jet.
"I hear the government contracted for a system that's the
wrong system," Trump said. "It's way over budget, it's way
behind schedule and when it's complete it's not going to be a
The FAA has spent nearly $3 billion since 2007 to implement
an updated system, "NextGen," which would utilize satellites to
monitor aircraft instead of radar and make other changes.
"NextGen is one of the most ambitious infrastructure and
modernization projects in U.S. history," the agency said in a
statement. "The FAA invited airline stakeholders to help develop
the blueprint for NextGen and they continue to have a seat at
the table in setting NextGen priorities and investments through
the NextGen Advisory Committee."
The Government Accountability Office said in a 2016 report
that the United States "is generally considered to have the
busiest, most complex and safest ATC system in the world."
The chief executives of United Airlines Inc, Delta
Air Lines Inc, Southwest and JetBlue Airways Corp
were among those who attended the meeting.
After the meeting, Airports Council International-North
America President and CEO Kevin Burke told reporters on a
conference call that airport officials had urged Trump to lift
the cap on airport passenger fees to address airport
Trump proposed during his campaign to spend $1 trillion over
a decade to upgrade the country's infrastructure.
Trump also told the executives he recognized that U.S.
airlines were facing pressure from foreign carriers.
Heads of the three largest U.S. passenger carriers -
American Airlines Group Inc, United and Delta - have
urged the Trump administration to denounce the U.S. Open Skies
agreements with the three major Middle Eastern carriers, which
they accuse of having been unfairly subsidized by their
The three airlines, Qatar, Etihad and Emirates,
have denied that their governments unfairly subsidize them. The
Gulf airlines operate around 200 flights per week to 12 U.S.
"I know you're under pressure from a lot of foreign elements
and foreign carriers," Trump said, adding that he wants foreign
carriers also to do well.
"They come with big investments, in many cases those
investments come from their governments, but they are still big
investments," he said.
(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe in Washington and Alana Wise in New
York; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland in
Washington; Writing by David Shepardson; Editing by Frances
Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)