Trump’s transportation chief eyes Canada visit to explore private aviation system

Trump’s transportation chief eyes Canada visit to explore private aviation system
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The head of the Department of Transportation may visit Canada in the coming weeks to examine the country’s privatized air traffic control system, according to Marc Garneau, Canada’s minister of transport.

Canada’s air traffic control operations are run by a nonprofit corporation instead of the government, a setup that has been championed by the U.S. airline industry and some Republican members in Congress.

A trip by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to see Canada’s aviation system could signal that the Trump administration is serious about exploring whether to support setting up a similar model in the U.S.

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President Trump has vowed to modernize U.S. airports, but has yet to take a public stance on whether he wants to see air traffic control peeled off from the federal government.

Garneau, who was in Washington this week to meet with Chao and several Capitol Hill lawmakers, said his impression was that it’s under serious consideration by the administration.

“An interesting point that was brought up by Secretary Chao, and in fact by [Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.)], was that the United States is possibly re-examining their air traffic control, and that they might be interested in seeing how we do it in Canada,” Garneau told The Hill in a sit-down interview at the Canadian Embassy. “There had been mention of it sporadically in previous years, but it seems to have reached a critical mass.”

“There was even talk of a trip in the coming weeks to come up to Ottawa and to meet with [Nav Canada] officials. ... [Chao] mentioned that she would potentially be coming up to Canada,” he added.

Garneau emphasized 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.”

Congress will soon be assembling legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), whose legal authority expires in September.

Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has pushed to include air traffic control reform in an FAA reauthorization bill. He wants to bring it in line with countries like Canada that have set up similar outside agencies for air traffic control.

One of the chief arguments behind the spin-off plan is that air traffic control operations face constant political and funding uncertainty, which proponents argue have caused the U.S. to struggle with aviation modernization.

The FAA bill stalled last year amid opposition from GOP tax writers and appropriators over the spin-off language. Shuster has been hopeful that he will be able to overhaul air traffic control in this year’s FAA bill under the new administration, but Republican appropriators have not yet warmed up to the idea.

“The public would not be well-served by exempting any part of the FAA from congressional oversight,” a group of Republican and Democratic appropriators wrote in a letter earlier this week. “The annual appropriations process provides the oversight of agency resources necessary to ensure accountability for program performance and a sustained focus on aviation safety.”