Government Affairs Trump budget calls for privatization of air traffic control By Robert Silk / March 16, 2017 Share 1 -- The Trump administration has proposed terminating a longstanding federal program that supports air service to rural communities and ending federal support for long-distance Amtrak service. The president has also endorsed a proposal to privatize the U.S. air traffic control (ATC) network. The proposals, outlined in the 2018 fiscal year budget blueprint released by the administration Thursday, would be part of a $2.4 billion, or 13%, reduction in Department of Transportation (DOT) funding. The total DOT budget for next year would be $16.2 billion. As of last October, the Essential Air Service program subsidized commercial flights in 120 communities in the continental U.S and Hawaii. In addition, 237 Alaskan communities are eligible for the program. The program was put in place in 1978 to help remote towns remain in the national air traffic network when airlines were deregulated. "EAS flights are not full and have high subsidy costs per passenger," the budget blueprint says. It adds that several EAS communities are relatively close to major airports. Cutting the program would save $175 million in 2018. The move would be another blow to small-town airports in the U.S., many of which have already lost some or all their commercial service as regional airlines struggle with a nationwide pilot shortage.The budget blueprint also calls for a multi-year process to shift air traffic control from the FAA to an independent non-governmental organization."This would benefit the flying public and taxpayers overall," it says. Trump's support of ATC privatization is sure to be welcomed by the trade group Airlines for America, which represents all the largest U.S. commercial carriers except for Delta. Proponents say the move will speed implementation of the satellite-based ATC system NextGen while removing ATC from contentious appropriation debates in Congress. Delta, conversely, says that the process of privatizing will delay NextGen implementation. Meanwhile, consumer groups say that privatization would give airlines too much control of ATC. Eliminating federal subsidies of long-distance Amtrak service, the budget proposal says, "would allow Amtrak to focus on better managing its state-supported and Northeast Corridor train service."Long-distance train services, the document says, have long been inefficient and incur the vast majority of Amtrak's operating losses.The 2018 fiscal year begins Oct. 1. The administration's proposal is all but certain to be substantially different from the final budget that will be presented to Trump by Congress.