Trump officials visit Canada to explore air traffic control system

Trump officials visit Canada to explore air traffic control system
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Members of the Trump administration and Congress are visiting Canada this week to examine the country’s privatized air traffic control system — a model that the U.S. is considering setting up.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, are leading a delegation in Ottawa Thursday and Friday, according to the Canadian Department of Transport.

The Canadian agency said it is helping to facilitate the “fact-finding” mission.

Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of transport, emphasized in an interview with The Hill earlier this month that Canada is not pressuring the U.S. to overhaul its system but acknowledged that it could be beneficial to have a more harmonious system and that “we’d be delighted to assist in any way we can.” 

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The Canada visit comes two weeks after Trump publicly endorsed the idea of separating air traffic control from the federal government and handing it over to a non-profit or nongovernmental organization. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would still maintain safety oversight.

Proponents of that model say Trump’s endorsement can add new momentum to the debate on Capitol Hill, where efforts to advance a spin-off plan stalled in the House last year.

“Presidential leadership on something like this … changes the landscape,” Shuster told reporters a few weeks ago. “I’m very excited about it.”

Congress will soon be working on legislation to reauthorize the FAA before its legal authority expires in September. That bill could serve as the prime legislative vehicle for the spin-off plan.

But Shuster, an early Trump backer who has been leading House efforts on air traffic control reform, said he still needs to sit down with the White House to hash out the administration’s vision for air traffic control.

The Transportation Committee will hold several more aviation hearings before it introduces and marks up a bill to reauthorize the FAA. It’s unclear whether any of the insight gathered during the Canada visit will be incorporated into the proposal.

Proponents of the plan say it’s necessary to speed up long-stalled modernization efforts and to avoid the financial and political uncertainty of being subject to the annual appropriations process. The airline industry has lobbied Congress heavily for the changes, which are already in place in many other developed nations around the world.

But the measure faces opposition from GOP tax writers and appropriators. They are concerned about handing over the power to collect fees to a non-governmental organization and removing air traffic control operations from congressional oversight.