President Discusses Future of Aviation in Meeting With Airline Executives

Feb 9, 2017

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In a meeting today held in the State Dining Room of the White House between President Donald Trump and executives from many of the nation’s airlines and airports, the President reiterated his desire to upgrade the nation’s air infrastructure and indicated he would like a pilot to head the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Our airports used to be the best. Now they’re at the bottom of the rung,” Trump told the assembled group. “And we have an obsolete plane system, we have obsolete airports, we have bad roads. We’re going to change all of that, folks.”

The group of executives represented most of the major US airlines, with the main exception being American’s CEO Doug Parker, who could not attend due to a conflict with an employee leadership conference in Dallas.

“We’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack,” Trump told the executives, who informed the President that an upgrade of the nation’s Air Traffic Control system was one of their top priorities for what the government could do to improve air travel.

The President also said he wanted to reduce what he called “a regulatory morass that’s a disaster” and give the industry tax relief. He offered few details on his plans, though he said the White House would be announcing something “over the next two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax.”

One of the most intriguing parts of the meeting was when the President said he would prefer to have a pilot in charge of the FAA, referring several times to his own personal pilot as “a real expert” and “a smart guy who knows what’s going on.”

Another topic that was touched upon during the meeting was the ongoing concern of US airlines about competition from the three major Middle Eastern carriers — Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar — known informally as the ME3. While the President told the executives that he would help them compete with airlines that receive foreign subsidies, he also wants foreign airlines to invest in the United States.

The US carriers have engaged in an escalating war of words with the ME3, claiming the foreign airlines are able to compete unfairly thanks to assistance from their home governments. Last month the major US legacy carriers objected to Emirates’ newly announced fifth-freedom route between Newark (EWR) and Athens (ATH) and called for a government investigation.

However, when it comes to increased competition in the nation’s air markets, the White House has previously indicated it may not have much interest in the complaints of US airlines. Earlier this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer indicated the White House would not be opposed to Norwegian’s efforts to expand flights into the United States. “There is a huge economic interest that America has in that deal right now,” Spicer said.

Featured image courtesy of Wally McNamee/Getty Images.

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