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East Room

12:02 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Mike.  I really appreciate everything and I appreciate you being here.  But I especially want to thank Secretary Elaine Chao, Leader Kevin McCarthy — thank you, Kevin — Chairman Bill Shuster — thank you very much, Bill — and all the members of Congress — we have many of them here today — for joining us as we prepare to enter a great new era in American aviation.  (Applause.)  It’s about time, too, I can tell you.

But before discussing our plans to modernize air travel, I want to provide an update on our efforts to fix and modernize vital services for our veterans — our great, great veterans who we all love.  For decades the federal government has struggled to accomplish something that should be very, very simple — seamlessly transferring a veteran’s medical records from the Defense Department to the veterans groups and to the VA.  In recent years, it has taken not just days or weeks, but many months for the records to follow the veteran.  This has caused massive problems for our veterans.

I’m very proud to say that we are finally taking steps to solve this situation once and for all.  Secretary Shulkin announced this morning that the VA will announce and modernize its medical records to use the same system as the Department of Defense.  No more complications.  The records will now be able to follow the veteran when they leave service — meaning faster, better, and far better quality care.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

This is one of the biggest wins for our veterans in decades.  And I congratulate Secretary Shulkin for making this very, very important decision.  Thank you, Secretary.  Appreciate it.  I appreciate it.  He’s done a great job.  Stand up, Secretary.  Where is Secretary Shulkin?  What a great job.  Thank you.

Of course, there is still much work to do, but today’s action shows the determined leadership and what it can accomplish — great, great reform.  So, again, to David Shulkin, thank you.  To all of our veterans who have a served this nation, a very, very special thank you.  This is truly wonderful, really monumental reform, so important for our veterans.  But it’s just the beginning.

We’re here today to discuss another issue that has gone unsolved for far too long.  For too many years, our country has tolerated unacceptable delays at the airport, long wait times on the tarmac, and a slowing of commerce and travel that costs us billions and billions of dollars in lost hours and lost dollars themselves.  Today, we are proposing to take American air travel into the future — finally.  (Applause.)  Finally, right?  Finally.  It’s been a long time.

We’re proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency, and far fewer delays.  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.  (Applause.)

Since the early days of commercial air service, the federal government has owned and operated the United States air traffic control system.  Yet, more than a half a century later, the government is still using much of the exact same outdated technology.  At a time when every passenger has GPS technology in their pockets, our air traffic control system still runs on radar and ground-based radio systems that they don’t even make anymore, they can’t even fix anymore, and many controllers must use slips of paper to track our thousands and thousands of planes that are up in the air.

Our air traffic control system was designed when roughly 100,000 people flew at our airports each year.  We are now approaching nearly one billion passengers annually.  The current system cannot keep up — hasn’t been able to keep up for many years.  It causes flight delays and crippling inefficiencies, costing our economy as much as $25 billion a year in economic output.  We live in a modern age, yet our air traffic control system is stuck painfully in the past.

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 are still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn’t work.  Other than that, it’s quite good.  (Laughter.)

The previous administration spent over $7 billion trying to upgrade the system, and totally failed.  Honestly, they didn’t know what the hell they were doing.  A total waste of money — $7 billion-plus-plus.

It’s time to join the future.  That is why I’m proposing new principles to Congress for air traffic control reform making flights quicker, safer and more reliable.  Crucially, these reforms are supported by air traffic controllers themselves.  They’re the ones that know the systems that they want.  They know it better than anybody.  And we have people — they don’t even call them in the past.  But now we call them.

I’m also proud to be joined today by passenger advocates, pilot unions, and leaders of airlines and cargo companies who strongly support our new framework and our bidding process.  And we’re bidding, ideally, to one great company — there will be many bids, but one great company that can piece it all together — not many companies all over the United States, like in the past.  When they came time to piece it together, it didn’t work.  There were all different systems.  We threw away billions and billions of dollars.

I am very grateful that every former FAA chief and chief operating officers and three former Transportation Secretaries — Jim Burnley, Elizabeth Dole, and Mary Peters — stand with us today.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  This is an incredible coalition for change.  All over the room, it’s a coalition for change.  The leaders of the industry.

At its core, our new plan will dramatically improve America’s air traffic control system by turning it over to a self-financing, non-profit organization.  This new entity will not need taxpayer money, which is very shocking when people hear that.  They don’t hear that too often.

Under this new plan, the Federal Aviation Administration will focus firmly on what it does best — safety.  A separate non-profit entity would be charged with ensuring route efficiency, timely service, and a long-awaited reduction in delays.

Our plan will also maintain support for rural communities and small airports, including airfields used by our Air National Guard units — great people.  And, very importantly, air traffic controllers will highly — and this will be highly valued.  These are highly valued people.  These are amazing people that know this system so well.  And under our plan, they will have more financial security, professional opportunity, and far superior equipment.  The best equipment anywhere in the world.  There will never be anything like what we’re doing.  And other systems are very good.  I won’t tell you the names of the country, but we have studied numerous countries, one in particular — they have a very, very good system.  Ours is going to top it by a lot.

Our incredible air traffic controllers keep us safe every day even though they are forced to use this badly outdated system.  That is why we want to give them access to capital markets and investors so they can obtain the best, newest, and safest technology available.  And by the way, the new technology — and I’ve seen it — is incredible.

If we adopt these changes, Americans can look forward to cheaper, faster, and safer travel — a future where 20 percent of a ticket price doesn’t go to the government, and where you don’t have to sit on a tarmac or circle for hours and hours over an airport — which is very dangerous also — before you land.

Dozens of countries have already made similar changes with terrific results.  And we’re going to top them, actually, by a long shot.  Canada, as an example, modernized their air traffic control through a non-government organization about 20 years ago, and they have cut costs significantly, adopted cutting-edge
technology, and handled 50 percent more traffic — and actually, far more than that on a relative basis compared to us.

A modern air traffic control system will make life better for all Americans who travel, ship, or fly.  It will reduce cost and increase convenience for every American consumer — and these new efficiencies will produce a huge economic boost for the country, and for the 1 in 14 American jobs that aviation supports.

Today, we are taking the first important step to clearing the runway for more jobs, lower prices, and much, much, much better transportation.  America is the nation that pioneered air travel, and with these reforms, we can once again lead the way far into the future.  Our nation will move faster, fly higher, and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

(The initiative is signed.)

12:13 P.M. EDT