These cities have the worst delays for air travelers

Airplane passengers check their flights on departure boards at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Robert Alexander | Getty Images

President Donald Trump's ambitious proposal to update the nation's air traffic control system could help reduce delays for millions of air travelers every year.

But the high-tech systems that help cut congestion in the skies will have less impact on long lines at security, crowded terminals and increased congestion at the busiest U.S. airports.

"We're proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays," Trump said. "Our plan will get you where you need to go quickly, more reliably, more affordably, and yes, for the first time in a long time, on time," he said.

About one in five flights arrived late or were cancelled at U.S. airports last year, delaying travel for nearly a million passengers. That level of delays has remained fairly constant over the last decade.

But much depends on which airport you're flying to. Last year, about a third of passengers flying to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Newark airports arrived late or not at all. The best on-time performance was to Houston, Charlotte and Atlanta airports, where about 85 percent of passengers arrived on time.

To cut down on those delays, the Federal Aviation Administration has been rolling out new systems to replace outdated radar navigation and radio communication with modern GPS and digital communications.

The goal of the so-called NextGen program is to reduce air traffic jams during peak periods in the most heavily congested portions of the country. The project, which itself has suffered from repeated delays, has set a target for completion of 2020.

Trump wants to speed up the rollout of that system by turning over the upgrade and management of the air traffic control system to a private company. He has said that the government's ongoing modernization efforts are already obsolete.

Privatization advocates, including the CEOs of most major U.S. airlines, argue that spinning off the system into a nongovernmental entity would improve efficiency and speed the rollout of new technologies.

Opponents, including Delta Air Lines, say the system is so large that privatization would not save money, would drive up ticket costs and could create a national security risk. Critics of the plan are also concerned that airlines would dominate the private-company board and limit access to airports by private aircraft and business jets.

The proposal also faces obstacles in Congress, where Democrats and some Republicans oppose it.

Trump's privatization proposal is "a tired Republican plan that both sides of the aisle have rejected" and would "hand control of one of our nation's most important public assets to special interests and the big airlines," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

A summary of the proposal released by the White House includes a three-year transition period to shift oversight of the nonprofit system to new ownership, which would be overseen by a board made up of airline, union and airport officials. The new entity should honor existing labor agreements but air traffic controllers would no longer be federal employees.

The FAA spends nearly $10 billion a year on air traffic control, funded largely through passenger user fees, and has about 28,000 air traffic control personnel.

Monday's announcement is part of a week-long series of proposals to overhaul the country's aging infrastructure as the White House confronts a growing probe into alleged ties between Trump's campaign and Russia. On Wednesday, Trump will visit Cincinnati for a planned speech on the need to upgrade the system of inland waterways, dams, locks and ports critical for shipping farm products.

— Reuters contributed to this report.

Watch: Former Spirit CEO on airport delays

Correction: The chart accompanying this story has been revised to correct passenger traffic figures for Charlotte and Dulles airports.


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