Melanie Zanona The Hill
Trump to Meet with Airlines Amid Air Traffic Control Debate
February 9, 2017
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  • Heads of several major U.S. airlines will sit down with President Trump at the White House Thursday morning to discuss the industry’s role in jobs and the economy.

    Delta Air Lines CEO Edward Bastian and United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz are slated to attend the meeting, according to the chairmen of Delta and United’s pilot groups.

    JetBlue confirmed in an email to The Hill that the airline will be participating, and so will Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and executives from air cargo carriers and airport officials, according to CNN Money.

    A spokesperson for American Airlines said their annual leadership conference in Texas is “unfortunately” preventing their CEO from making the meeting, but the company “looks forward to working with this administration to ensure all Americans have access to safe and efficient air travel.”

    Thursday’s meeting is just the latest in a series of “listening sessions” between the new administration and various business leaders. Trump held a similar event with the top U.S. automakers last month.

    The aviation sit-down comes as lawmakers are about to begin work on reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as current legal authority for the agency expires in September.

    In addition to job creation and economic growth, industry sources expect the airline executives to especially broach the subject of modernizing the nation’s air traffic control system.

    A recent inspector general report shows that the FAA has struggled to implement its NextGen modernization program, which aims to establish a precise satellite-based surveillance system.

    House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), along with some of the nation’s major airlines, has advocated for a proposal to separate ATC from the federal government.

    Shuster told The Hill last month that he has talked to the president-elect “a couple of times” about the idea of overhauling air traffic control, adding that Trump’s “response has been positive.”

    But Trump, who has long talked about the need to modernize the country’s “third-world airports,” has not yet taken a stance on ATC reform.

    The issue is also divisive. Not only does Delta oppose the spin-off plan, but so do some Republican members in Congress, who worry about removing the operations from the control of appropriators and tax-writers.

    A new poll being released later on Thursday – and shared with The Hill – reveals deep skepticism among the public for handing ATC over to a non-profit organization.

    The telephone survey, conducted by Global Strategy Group on behalf of the Alliance for Aviation Across America, and the Air Care Alliance and the League of Rural Voters, shows that 88 percent of respondents rated the FAA’s current ATC operations as positive. The poll also found that while 43 percent of people support the general idea of privatizing government functions, just 26 percent of people supported doing so for air traffic control.

    Proponents of the proposal, however, have emphasized that the FAA still would maintain oversight of ATC.

    Another hot-button issue that is likely to come up during the White House confab on Thursday is the Obama administration’s controversial decision to allow European-based Norwegian Air Shuttle to expand to the U.S. through an Irish-based subsidiary called Norwegian Air International.

    Pilot unions, which are suing the Obama administration over the permit approval, are pressing Trump to overturn the decision, which they say undercuts U.S. competition and violates the international Open Skies agreement.

    But earlier this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer seemed to throw cold water on the idea of reversing the decision.

    “There’s a huge economic interest that America has in that deal right now,” Spicer said during a press briefing with reporters. “I don’t want to get ahead of the president on that, but… we are talking about U.S jobs, both in terms of the people who are serving those planes and the person who’s building those planes.”