The obvious way for President Trump to launch his push for a big, bipartisan infrastructure package would have been for the renowned developer to don a hard hat, motorcade to the nearest decaying bridge, antiquated airport, or traffic-clogged highway, and vow to rebuild America’s crumbling arteries.
He did not do that.
Instead, the president on Monday chose to kick off what the White House is calling “infrastructure week” by championing a rather obscure proposal for bureaucratic reform: the privatization of the nation’s air-traffic control system. Republicans have been batting the idea around for years as a way to shift some 30,000 unionized traffic controllers off the government payroll and get the Federal Aviation Administration out of operating a business it is responsible for regulating. It’s a serious idea that has some buy-in from key industry players, including, most notably, the union representing air-traffic controllers.
Changing the entity that directs when planes take off and land is not, however, what voters might have expected to see as the centerpiece of a $1 trillion infrastructure plan Trump promised on the campaign trail. Nevertheless, the president pitched the proposal as transformative, spicing up air-traffic control with plenty of Trump-ian flourishes at a White House ceremony. He described the status quo in dire terms— “an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work,” he said. (“Other than that, it’s quite good,” Trump added for laughs.) And he said the principles he was endorsing would fix just about every complaint that Americans have with flying today. “We’re proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency, and far fewer delays,” the president promised. “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 We will launch this air travel revolution by modernizing the outdated system of air traffic control.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.”