The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 budget is a disappointment and a huge missed opportunity for the country’s commercial air transport industry and for Americans.

Superficially, the spending plan would start the much-needed shift of FAA’s air traffic control function to a non-governmental, independent organization, making it more efficient and more capable. 

But there is no evidence of the full-throated support that will be required to get the critically-needed air traffic management (ATM) reform proposal through Congress. The US general aviation community and a cadre of lawmakers remain vehemently opposed to ATM reform. One of ATM reform’s biggest champions, Republican and House Transportation chairman Bill Shuster, is retiring and seems to have all but given up on the campaign. He failed even to get a vote on ATM reform to the House floor.

Consequently, the White House’s lukewarm, throwaway sentence referencing ATM reform in the budget plan is not going to change the status quo. To stand any chance, President Donald Trump needs to make clear the enormous benefits that reform will bring to the US air transport system and how a modernized, more resilient and larger capacity system will benefit American air travelers and businesses. He needs to prioritize ATM reform, identify its new congressional champions and give them his full backing.

Of even greater concern, however, is that the administration seems to believe it can let ATM reform continue to sit in the waiting room while the government further shrinks FAA’s budget and resources (see article, page 7). The agency’s $16.1 billion request is almost 2% below its mostly recently approved budget, covering fiscal 2017. Mandatory budget increases, such as pay raises, and increasing demand in a few areas, including UAV integration, will squeeze FAA even more. NextGen programs, also critical to ATM modernization, would see another 11% shaved off in the 2019 fiscal budget versus 2017.

To their credit, FAA leaders are working a plan to save the millions of dollars they must find while maintaining operations and safety standards. FAA, of course, will make every effort to ensure neither will be jeopardized.

But the longer the situation continues where cuts are being made at one end without real reform progress on the other, the closer the day comes when those two ends will collide. A day in which America wakes up to a broken, gridlocked air transport system that is unable to keep its airliners, and the country, moving.

The potential harm that will be done to one of the world’s most respected air transport systems and to the American economy is unthinkable; and entirely avoidable.