Is Trump’s Plan to Privatize Air-Traffic Control a Good Idea?

“Broken,” “horrible,” “antiquated.” Those are some of the words President Trump recently used to describe the nation’s current air-traffic control system. That system is currently managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a government agency that oversees all aspects of commercial aviation.

Trump’s solution? Transfer some of the FAA’s responsibilities to a private nonprofit organization. This would take nearly two-thirds of its workforce—including thousands of technicians and over 13,000 air-traffic controllers—off the government payroll. The newly formed entity would then be responsible for directing planes both on the ground and in the air. (Trump’s plan isn’t complete privatization, but rather more like a public-private partnership, as the FAA would continue to oversee the air-traffic-control system.)

The idea isn’t new. Talk of privatizing the management of the nation’s skies dates back three decades. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Privatization identified air-traffic control as ripe for outsourcing. The idea failed to pick up steam then, but the Trump administration is hoping for a different outcome this time around.

Talk of privatization has raised several questions: Why privatize at all? Will it make flying safer? How will airports across the country be affected? There are actually good cases to make both for and against privatization. On the whole, reforming how air-traffic services are delivered is worthwhile—but not without costs, and those costs are important to understand and address.

One of Trump’s stated arguments for his plan is that it will make flying safer, but this is fairly flimsy reasoning. Opponents rightly point out that flying is as safe as it’s ever been: Tens of thousands of flights take to the skies every day across America and they (almost always) land without incident. The last fatal crash of a U.S. passenger plane was in 2009. Since then, the nation’s commercial accident record has been spotless.

Further, airplanes today are designed differently compared to decades prior, and their safety record has less to do with air-traffic control’s governance structure and more to do with how modern planes are manufactured. For example, improvements in propulsion mechanics mean that engines fail far less than they used to. And structural-engineering advances mean that corrosion of planes’ bodies no longer forces them out of the sky.

Read more at The Atlantic.