Photo of Donald Trump

Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion With Aviation Industry Representatives

February 09, 2017

The President. Sit down, everybody. Sit down. Thank you for being here.

Participant. Thank you for having us.

The President. Nothing like having meetings in the White House, right? Good place. Good place for meetings. Good place for a lot of things. I'll be straightening a lot of things out. People don't realize I inherited a mess. A big mess.

Participant. No, I think that they do.

The President. I think they know. I think they understand.

Well, thank you all. I know so many of you through reading and through business magazines, and you've done an amazing job. And I want to congratulate you. And I know you're under pressure from a lot of foreign elements and foreign carriers. I've been hearing that a little bit. At the same time, we want to make life good for them also. They come with big investments. In many cases, those investments are made by their governments. But they are still big investments.

I'm thrilled to welcome the leaders of the airline industry to the White House. Your industry supports over 10 million well-paying U.S. jobs and creates almost $1 trillion in economic activity, which is really big stuff, really amazing.

Last year, our airlines moved approximately 2 million people each day in our country, which is an incredible number of people. And they move them well, despite the bad equipment that the airports give you in many cases, because they can't get approvals on anything, and we have a regulatory morass that's a disaster.

And I can tell you that a lot of the new equipment that's ordered is obsolete the day they order it, and that's according to people that know, including my pilot. I have a pilot who's a real expert, and he said, sir, the equipment they're putting on is just the wrong stuff. So we'll talk about that. Because if we're going to modernize our systems, we should be using the right equipment. And I know Mr. Tilden is nodding. You know what I mean. And it's one thing to order equipment, but let's order the right equipment. Probably the wrong equipment costs more. Probably, buy the right equipment for less money. So we want to talk about that. Because my pilot, he's a smart guy, and knows what's going on. He said the Government is using the wrong equipment and instituting a massive, multibillion-dollar project, but they're using the wrong type of equipment. So let's find out about that.

We want the traveling public to have the greatest customer service with an absolute minimum of delays and with the greatest convenience, all at the lowest possible cost. We want to help you realize these goals, and we will indeed help you realize these goals. Airports, very important to me; travel, very important to me.

I mean, as an example, somebody was saying yesterday to me that you go to China, you go to Japan, they have fast trains all over the place. We don't have one. I don't want to compete with your business—[laughter]—but we don't have one fast train. And it's the same thing with our airports. Our airports used to be the best. Now they're at the bottom of the rung. We've spent $6 trillion—think of it—as of about 2 months ago, $6 trillion in the Middle East. We've got nothing. We've got nothing. We never even kept a small—just even a little tiny oil well. Not one little well. I said, keep the oil. But we've spent right now, $6 trillion in the Middle East. We have nothing. And we have an obsolete plane system, we have obsolete airports, we have obsolete trains. We have bad roads. We're going to change all of that, folks. You're going to be so happy with Trump.

Participant. That's good.

The President. I think you already are.

So we want to help you realize these goals by rolling back burdensome regulations. And you people are regulated probably as much as almost anybody, although I can think of a couple of industries that are even worse. Lowering the overall tax burden on American businesses, big league, that's coming along very well. We are way ahead of schedule, I believe. And we're going to be announcing something, I would say, over the next 2 or 3 weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax and developing our aviation infrastructure.

Again, I want to thank you all for being here. So I want this to be a meeting of substance. I want to be able to do things for you. The auto industry was in. They left, they said it was the best meeting they've ever had. I even took them into the Oval Office. The head of Ford, the head of General Motors, the head of Fiat, others—they never saw the Oval Office. I said, you mean they never took you in? It was—you see how far away it was from the room? Ten feet. It was 10 feet across the hallway, but they never got taken in. I took them in.

The auto companies are going to be making massive investments in Michigan and Ohio, in Pennsylvania, a lot of the places where jobs have left. So we're really happy about that. They've been great. Ford is going to build—you know they cancelled a big plant in a certain place, I won't say where—a $2 billion plant, and they're building it in the United States, and they're expanding greatly. General Motors, the same thing. They've been great. They've been great. I think they'll continue to be great.

But we're also going to be great to them. We're going to get rid of a lot of unnecessary regulation, and we're going to make their life a lot easier. They're going to employ a lot more people. So it's working. A lot of businesses are rushing in. They're coming in big league.

So with that, I thought what we'd do is perhaps we'll start with Mr. Gray. We'll go around the room and just quickly just say who you are and who you represent.

White House staffer. Thank you, press.

The President. The biggest of the airlines here. And you can—no, stay, stay, stay. Let them see who's here. [Laughter] Everyone is so quick to get rid of the press. I think I am the most open President ever. [Laughter] They want to get the President. What, you don't want to see who Mr. Gray is? [Laughter] Maybe I should have started with somebody else. [Laughter]

United Parcel Service U.S. Operations President Myron A. Gray. No, no, I'm just fine. [Laughter]

The President. Okay, you can stay. Yes, stay. Stay for a while. See who's here, right? Okay, good.

Mr. Gray. Well, thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you. Mr. Gray. I'm Myron Gray, and I represent United Parcel Service.

The President. Great.

Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans. I'm Ginger Evans, I'm the Commissioner of Aviation for the city of Chicago.

Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, Inc., President and Chief Executive Officer William J. Flynn. Mr. President, Bill Flynn with Atlas Air.

The President. Yes.

Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority President and Chief Executive Officer Rob Wigington. Rob Wigington, CEO for Nashville Airport Authority. Thank you for having us.

Airlines for America President and Chief Executive Officer Nicholas E. Calio. Nick Calio, Airlines for America. Thank you for having us.

Delta Air Lines, Inc., Chief Executive Officer Edward Bastian. Mr. President, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines.

The President. Great, Delta. Delta is doing well.

Mr. Bastian. Doing great, and you know we've been neighbors for a long time.

The President. That's right. That's right, good.

Mr. Bastian. Hopefully, we've been good to you.

The President. Good. You've been very good. Thank you.

JetBlue Airways President and Chief Executive Officer Robin Hayes. Mr. President, Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways. [Inaudible]

The President. Good. Good job.

Mr. Hayes. Thank you.

FedEx President and Chief Operating Officer David J. Bronczek. Mr. President, Dave Bronczek, FedEx.

The President. Yes.

Southwest Airlines Co. Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Gary C. Kelly. Gary Kelly, Southwest——

The President. By the way, Fred Smith was here yesterday.

Mr. Bronczek. Yes, I know.

The President. We had a long talk. And he's a great, great guy.

Mr. Bronczek. Yes.

Mr. Kelly. Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines.

The President. Great job.

Alaska Air Group President, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer Bradley D. Tilden. Brad Tilden, Alaska Air Group. And we're actually in the process of merging with Virgin America right now.

The President. Okay, good. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Patrick J. Foye. Mr. President, Pat Foye, Executive Director of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey.

The President. Right. We spoke a long time ago.

Mr. Foye. Yes, sir.

The President. Good. And you did a good job—[inaudible].

Mr. Foye. Thank you.

The President. Appreciate it.

Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President and Chief Executive Officer John E. Potter. Mr. President, Jack Potter, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

The President. Great.

Airports Council International-North America President and Chief Executive Officer Kevin M. Burke. Mr. President, Kevin Burke. I'm the President of Airports Council International-North America, which is every airport in the United States and Canada. Thank you for having us.

The President. Thank you.

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Aviation Director William R. Vanecek. Mr. President, Bill Vanecek. I'm the Director of Aviation for the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and Niagara Falls International Airport. I'm also the chairman of Airports Council International-NA.

The President. Great.

Tampa International Airport Chief Executive Officer Joseph W. Lopano. Mr. President, good morning. My name is Joe Lopano. I'm from Tampa International Airport.

The President. Great.

United Continental Holdings, Inc., Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz. Oscar Munoz with United Airlines.

The President. All right.

Mr. Munoz. And Mr. Doug Parker from American couldn't be here today, so he sends his best.

The President. Okay. Thank you.

Los Angeles World Airports Chief Executive Officer Deborah Ale Flint. Good morning, Mr. President. Deborah Flint, the CEO of Los Angeles World Airports. LAX is the world's seventh largest airport and the country's third largest airport.

The President. We'll make it number one worldwide. Let's make it number one. [Laughter] I didn't like that number. What is number one now in terms of service?

Ms. Flint. Atlanta.

The President. That's good. Well, we love the State of Georgia. I love Georgia, I tell you that's for sure. So that's good. So——

Participant. Number one in the world. The President. Let me ask you—so what can we do to make your airlines better, to make your balance sheet better, to have you get more jobs and create more jobs, to have you win competition worldwide so you can start doing more business worldwide? Because I know you have a lot of competition, and a lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league. I've heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably, about 1 hour after I got elected—[laughter]—I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it's a pretty unfair situation.

What can we do? Give me suggestions that we can make your life easier and that you can employ a lot more people.

Mr. Kelly. Well, Mr. President, I'll lead us off.

The President. Southwest Airlines.

Mr. Kelly. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here. We have never had a meeting like this, certainly in my years at Southwest Airlines. So we're very grateful for the time.

The President. I want to congratulate you because you have done an amazing job.

Mr. Kelly. Well, we appreciate it.

The President. Really, an amazing job. You really have. So congratulations. Go ahead.

Mr. Kelly. I think we're very well aligned with your philosophy. We would welcome tax reform. We would welcome regulatory reform. And very well aligned on the need for infrastructure investment.

The single biggest opportunity for aviation is to modernize the air traffic control system. We work very well with our partners at the airports around the table. I know them all and we serve all of these airports and——

The President. You shouldn't know them too well. [Laughter]

Mr. Kelly. Well, they're our landlords. [Laughter] They are in many cases the only landlord available. So we do need to know them well. But we have billions of dollars' worth of airport projects underway around the country to continue to modernize the airports. We've spent billions of dollars on air traffic control modernization, but it's not making any meaningful progress.

The President. I hear that. No, I hear we have the wrong system. I'm hearing that the United States Government—and is the gentleman who's the head of the FAA right now not a pilot? Or is that—is the head——

Mr. Kelly. I don't know if he's a pilot or not.

The President. I'd like to find out, because I think it maybe would be good to have a pilot, like a really good pilot that knows what's going on. I've heard that, and I don't know, it seems a little hard to believe, because the complexity of your business is right up there, right?

Mr. Kelly. Oh, very much so.

The President. And I would think you need a very sophisticated person in that job, and somebody that, frankly—being a pilot would be helpful. Because I'm hearing you put the wrong—I hear the Government contracted for a system that's the wrong system, now, I hear that from pilots. So who would be better to tell me? But I hear we're spending billions and billions of dollars. It's a system that's totally out of whack. It's way over budget, it's way behind schedule, and when it's completed, it's not going to be a good system. Other than that, it's fantastic. [Laughter]

So what do you think about that, Gary?

Mr. Kelly. Well, I agree with you. It's—when you have a project that takes that long, it becomes outdated.

The President. It's already outdated, that's why——

Mr. Kelly. It's already outdated, no question. And we've spent billions of dollars on this.

The President. Has that been you or the Government—both?

Mr. Kelly. Oh no, this is the Federal——

The President. Yes.

Mr. Kelly. ——FAA, air traffic control——

The President. So when you say "we"—"we" the Government?

Mr. Kelly. We're paying for it. The air—ultimately, the airlines and our customers are paying for it.

The President. Why did the airlines allow that to happen, where they put in a bad system? Not even antiquated—and it's antiquated because it's taken so long. Why do the airlines allow a system that you know is bad from the beginning—because you guys are pros—why do they allow the Government to put in the wrong system?

Mr. Kelly. Well, we're not in control. And I think that that's one of the things that we see as a path to having success, is we need to address the fundamental organization of the air traffic organization. Not the safety and regulatory oversight—that's a Government function that needs to remain. But our—we believe that reforming the FAA by creating a not-for-profit corporation is the way to address the governments that you're speaking to, as well as the long-term financing.

The President. Headed by the airlines? Headed by who?

Mr. Kelly. Well——

The President. The board would be who?

Mr. Kelly. The board would be represented by all the various constituents. So the Government would have a seat, general aviation would have a seat, certainly the commercial airlines would have a seat. Everyone would——

The President. Well, this wouldn't have happened then. You wouldn't be putting in a system—a control system—that is obsolete before they even signed the contract. And by the way, overly expensive; more expensive than a good system. So you wouldn't have that.

Mr. Kelly. You know, the interesting thing is that I think that there is absolutely unanimous agreement that the system needs to be modernized and that it is well behind schedule. There is not agreement on the path forward to address that, and that's where we run into roadblocks.

The President. But you guys are—— Mr. Kelly. We want to get the Government out of managing the air traffic control system so that it can be adequately managed, adequately financed, and we can get this done. We won World War II in 3½ years; we ought to be able to modernize our air traffic control system.

The President. So how long would it take to—because I'm hearing you have to scrap all the billions of dollars that have been put in—stupidly put in. How long would it take to come up with a great air traffic control system, the top anywhere in the world, the top of the line? How long would that take to do, and how much would it cost?

Mr. Kelly. The good news is, we don't have to scrap everything. We are still using fundamentally World War II-era ground-based radar to guide the aircraft from a navigation standpoint. We are not utilizing GPS satellite-delivered navigational tools. Those things exist. At least for Southwest Airlines, we have fully equipped all of our fleet to take advantage of that, but we're not getting those kinds of flight profiles written for each airport or each route.

The President. So you'd save a lot of time; you'd save a tremendous amount of fuel.

Mr. Kelly. We think that we're losing $25 billion a year as an industry. And I think the best example we can offer up to you—the system is very safe, by the way. And our air traffic controllers are very fine men and women; they do a fantastic job.

The President. It's safe, but it's very cautious. And it should be cautious.

Mr. Kelly. Yes, it must be cautious.

The President. But I notice the intervals when planes go out——

Mr. Kelly. Yes.

The President. ——seem very, very long.

Mr. Kelly. It used to be a 55-minute trip between Washington and New York, and today it's 80.

Mr. Foye. Mr. President, it's not just about fuel, it's about jobs. The partnership in New York City did a study that the cost of air traffic control congestion in New York and New Jersey alone is $75 billion over a period ending in 2028. Those are jobs that haven't been created and jobs that——

The President. And what is the reason for that?

Mr. Foye. It's the antiquated system, one, Mr. President. It's, two, the fact that New York/New Jersey is the most—is the busiest airspace in the world. And three, frankly, that other countries, including Canada, have more efficient systems. Implementation and funding of NextGen is really critical. And this is not an academic thing, this is about jobs.

The President. Right.

Mr. Munoz. Sir, you ask why—your question—how did we let this happen to some degree.

The President. Yeah.

Mr. Munoz. I have background—telecom and railroads, and so I'm relatively new to the industry, and it's unfortunate that every time you go from one industry to the other, the regulatory burden continues or gets worse. In this particular case, to be very frankly blunt, and to your point earlier, I think it's become political—it's a political process, and so it's difficult for us to have control. The President. Not anymore it's not political. We're going to get——

Mr. Munoz. And the appointees that you appoint——

The President. ——at a reasonable price. So not anymore. Go ahead.

Mr. Munoz. I would take special care in who we appoint to these roles—to your point on the FAA. Whether or not it needs to be a pilot or not, I can't opine, but it would be nice to have people that actually have a thorough understanding of the business of aviation.

The President. Well, is the head of the FAA a pilot? Does anybody know? Somebody should know.

Participant. He's not.

The President. Because I—he's not? He's not a pilot.

Participant. That's right.

The President. I just think a nonpilot would not know the sophistication of this system, right? I mean, better to have a pilot, because my pilot said it's a terrible system that they're installing; that the work they're doing now is a waste of tremendous amounts of money because the system is a bad system. That's coming from a pilot.

Mr. Lopano. Mr. President, when you talk about jobs, and you just recently asked about that, what we talked about just recently with the airlines is infrastructure in the sky, which is really antiquated.

The President. Right.

Mr. Lopano. But you've referred to infrastructure on the ground, the airports.

The President. Both.

Mr. Lopano. Yes, and the airports really are becoming antiquated, to your point. There is a system, there is a charge called a passenger-facility charge, which is a charge that's levied on every ticket. And it hasn't been increased in 16 years, so it's basically defunded.

The President. How much is it?

Mr. Lopano. It's $4.50. That could be increased by a simple act of Congress, and it's not a U.S. tax. It's a user fee. So as a customer uses my airport in Tampa, the airlines collect that fee, and they send it back to us in Tampa. It never comes to Washington and gets subsumed in the budget.

The President. The problem is, I don't like raising fees or taxes—I'll be honest. I mean, we're spending all of this money overseas, we're giving away trillions of dollars to all these countries. All of the countries that trade with us are ripping us off. The last thing we have to do is raise the fee. I understand what you're saying, but $4.50—it's a lot when you look at all of the passengers.

There are other ways of doing this, because you're only hurting yourselves by—eventually, people are going to just stop flying because it's very expensive with all the taxes. I mean, there are other ways. We're spending so much money overseas, fighting wars, fighting—doing things, and, frankly, making horrible trade deals. So don't worry about the money. I'll be able to get the money. The money—we're going to change things around.

[At this point, the conversation continued, but no transcript was provided.]

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:47 a.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to John Dunkin, pilot, Trump Organization; William C. Ford, Jr., executive chairman, Ford Motor Co.; Mary T. Barra, chief executive officer, General Motors Co.; Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles; Frederick W. Smith, chairman and chief executive officer, FedEx; and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael P. Huerta. Mr. Munoz referred to William D. Parker, chairman and chief executive officer, American Airlines Group, Inc.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion With Aviation Industry Representatives Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives