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Industry pushes US air traffic control overhaul

Aviation executives at the Routes Americas conference in Las Vegas continued to push for privatisation of US air traffic control (ATC), suggesting that the effort could come to fruition under the administration of president Donald Trump.

"We cannot continue to operate with an infrastructure that was developed back in the late 1960s [and] 1970s," IATA regional vice-president for the Americas Peter Cerda tells FlightGlobal. "We are hopeful that in September, when the reauthorisation is up… the Trump administration really takes a proactive approach to look into the new system."

The US Congress is expected to reauthorise spending for the Federal Aviation Administration before the agency's current spending authority expires in September.

In 2016, the aviation industry, led by trade group Airlines for America and chair of the House transportation committee Bill Shuster, made a major push to split ATC from the purview of the FAA and place it into a newly-created corporation run by the industry and funded by users.

Though that effort failed, insiders suspect Trump may be more amenable to overhauling ATC.

Trump has promised to modernise US infrastructure and, during a recent meeting with airline executives, called the current ATC system "totally out of whack".

During Routes Americas, Southwest Airlines chief revenue officer Andrew Watterson says the outdated US ATC system has the potential to slow what in recent years has been steady growth of the US airline industry.

"We have to fix the ATC problems," Watterson says. "If we don’t get that solved, demand for air travel will outstrip our ability to [operate] without huge delays."

Though most US airlines have supported privatising ATC, Delta Air Lines has stood alone in opposition, claiming airlines themselves have the ability to improve operational performance.

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