The Trump administration in its fiscal 2019 budget submission renewed the controversial effort to divest the FAA of its air traffic control (ATC) function by creating a separate organization.

In summary documents released Feb. 12, the administration said its budget contains a multiyear FAA reauthorization proposal to shift U.S. ATC to a “non-governmental, independent air traffic services cooperative.” The restructuring would drive innovation and efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS) while maintaining safety, the administration said.

“Similar to successful efforts in many other developed countries, the goal is to create a system that can respond to changing air travel demand by deploying cutting-edge technology and giving airlines, general aviation users, and passengers a system that is a good steward of their financial resources,” the administration stated.

Administration support of so-called ATC reform revives a proposal that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced in 2017 which failed to be brought to a vote in either the full House or Senate. Major U.S. airlines represented by trade group Airlines for America (A4A) support the restructuring (with the exception of Delta Air Lines); the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and general aviation interests are largely opposed.

The proposal is being revived with noticeably less fanfare than President Donald Trump’s initial endorsement of ATC restructuring, a highlighted element in the fiscal 2018 budget proposal that was reinforced by the White House during an “infrastructure week” campaign in June 2017.

In another reform proposal, Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget seeks to scale back the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which subsidizes airline service to rural and underserved areas. The administration requests $93 million in discretionary funding, a reduction of $57 million from the 2017 enacted level of $150 million.

The “EAS was designed as a temporary program nearly 40 years ago. However, today many EAS flights are not full and have high per-passenger subsidy costs. Several EAS eligible communities are relatively close to major airports,” the administration said.

The budget includes a “legislative reform” proposal to ensure federal funds are targeted at the communities most in need by limiting EAS eligibility to communities located more than 50 mi. from a small hub, 75 mi. from a medium hub, and 100 mi. from a large hub.

Bill Carey