President Donald Trump speaks at a Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative announcement in the East Room at the White House, June 5, 2017, in Washington.
President Donald Trump speaks at a Air Traffic Control Reform Initiative announcement in the East Room at the White House, June 5, 2017, in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday proposed privatizing the nation's air traffic control system, saying reforms are needed to cut air travel times and fuel costs and curb annoying delays for travelers.

Trump said the government-run Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) "is stuck painfully in the past," adding that it was designed decades ago for a country with an annual total of 180,000 air passengers, not the nearly one billion travelers it has now.

"The FAA has been trying to upgrade our nation’s air traffic control system for a long period of years, but after billions and billions of tax dollars spent and the many years of delays, we’re still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work," Trump said. "Other than that, it’s quite good.”

Trump said air traffic inefficiencies cost the country as much as $25 billion annually and called on Congress to create a private, non-profit company to run the system. Privatizing U.S. air traffic control is an idea that in the past has met resistance from some lawmakers or stalled as more pressing issues took precedence.

"Under this new plan, the Federal Aviation Administration will focus firmly on what it does best: safety," Trump said. "A separate non-profit entity would be charged with ensuring route efficiency, timely service and a long-awaited reduction in delays." Trump also said,  "Our plan will get you where you need to go more quickly, more reliably, more affordably. And yes, for the first time in a long time, on time. We will launch this air travel revolution by modernizing the outdated system of air traffic control. It’s about time. “

FILE - An American Airlines Boeing 767 waits to ta
FILE - An American Airlines Boeing 767 waits to take off at Los Angeles International Airport.

Improving infrastructure

Trump's announcement came on the first day of what the White House said would be a series of events in the coming days calling attention to his ideas to improve the nation's infrastructure.

Later in the week, Trump is scheduled to travel to the midwestern state of Ohio to discuss improvements to levees, dams and locks that are key to agriculture shipping.  

There is also a planned meeting with a group of governors and mayors to discuss their plans, and the president is due to visit the Department of Transportation on Friday to talk about regulatory reforms related to roads and rail.

"It doesn't matter who you are, whether you are a 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," Gary Cohn, Trump's chief economic adviser, told reporters in advance of the air traffic announcement.

Campaign promise

During his run for the White House, Trump called for a $1 trillion program to fix the nation's infrastructure. His budget proposal issued last month included $200 billion for infrastructure that the administration hopes will lead to other investments. The White House has also discussed incentivizing local governments to sell existing infrastructure to private firms.

Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, says that approach is "literally the opposite of an infrastructure plan" and is "dead on arrival."

Rep. Rick Larsen, the ranking Democrat on the House aviation subcommittee, called the proposal to privatize air traffic control "another idea worth killing."

"Congress will have much to say about this," Larsen wrote on Twitter.