But the system is stressed and the FAA says it needs to hire 1,000 new air traffic controllers annually to end a current shortage and keep it from growing worse.
Critics had charged the proposal a year ago gave too much power to airlines. Proposed FAA reauthorization legislation would also maintain support for rural communities and small airports, he said, an apparent reference to the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes airline service to underserved areas.
President Donald Trump is laying out his vision for overhauling the nation's air traffic control system on Monday.
As he pushed for the changes, Trump was flanked by three former USA transportation secretaries who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush: Elizabeth Dole, James Burnley and Mary Peters.
Airlines are probably the least capable industry to run air traffic control given that they can barely get through a week without a massive customer relations incident or technological meltdown.
"It doesn't matter who you are, whether you are farmer in the Midwest, or a mother driving your kids to and from school, or a worker or a college kid flying back and forth to school, you're affected by infrastructure", said White House economic adviser Gary Cohn in a conference call with reporters.
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In fact the proposal to break off the air traffic function from the government's Federal Aviation Administration was first proposed during the Clinton administration, and was revived early a year ago in legislation introduced by Pennsylvania Republican representative Bill Shuster. Delta even released a study in 2016 on the subject, which claims that privatizing the system could lead to cost increases of over 20 percent that passengers would then have to cover. That effort picked up steam a year ago when the union that represents air traffic controllers agreed to support a proposal by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to spin off air traffic operations into a private, nonprofit corporation. If the airlines are not effectively investing in upgrading and modernizing their own systems, how can they possibly be trusted with oversight of air traffic control?
To cut down on those delays, the Federal Aviation Administration has been rolling out new systems to replace outdated radar navigation and radio communication with modern GPS and digital communications.
New Zealand, the first country to take the privatization route in the late 1980's, saw its air traffic control system go from losing $5.5 million a year to turning a $2.3 million profit in just a year after privatization. NavCanada can raise private capital, make long-term financial commitments, and it recently lowered the fees it charges airlines.
FAA officials say the agency has made progress during the past decade in updating its computers and other equipment.
Trump was surrounded by members of Congress as, amid some jovial banter, he signed a decision memo and letter outlining his principles for the air traffic control plan. Opponents fear airline interests will dominate the board, overseeing an estimated 300 air traffic facilities and around 30,000 employees.
Some former high-level FAA managers also favor the privatization plan, which is opposed by many Democratic lawmakers and private aviation groups. Key members of tax-writing committees have questioned whether corporations can legally impose fees, which can be viewed as taxes, on air traffic system users. This is also what bothers private pilots and smaller airlines and airports, as they feel that they won't have enough representation on the non-profit corporation's proposed board. The airlines have promised that won't happen.