US 2020 Election: What are Trump and Biden’s plans for aviation?

Ilaria Grasso Macola 13 October 2020 (Last Updated October 13th, 2020 17:27)

On 3 November, Americans will vote in what most commentators define a fundamental election in US history. As the countdown continues, we take a look at the two candidates’ plans for aviation.

US 2020 Election: What are Trump and Biden’s plans for aviation?
As election day approach, what are Trump and Biden’s plans for aviation? Credit: NASA HQ Photo and Gage Skidmore.

Considered by many to be “the most important election in US history”, the US presidential election has the potential to shape not only American politics and society but also the country’s most lucrative industries, including aviation.

While often coming at odds on topics such as healthcare, coronavirus and racism, both President Donald Trump and Joe Biden have not talked at length about their plans for the aviation industry.

With the election only 20 days away, we take a look at what both candidates have in store for the future of the industry.

 

Donal Trump – highlights from the administration’s aviation policy

While running for president against Hillary Clinton, Trump pledged to focus on the rebuilding of vital infrastructure, including aviation over his mandate. However, in the last four years, the Trump administration showed little sign of investments in road, rails and airports.

As published in August by the BBC, while Trump had initially called for a $1.5tn investment in infrastructure, in March 2018 the Congress allocated only $21bn for infrastructure spending. A year later, Republicans and Democrats agreed to spend $2tn on infrastructure, but the deal was later dissolved.

Again, in June there were rumours of a new $1tn plan but the announcement has yet to be made.

‘Making Aviation Great Again’

One of the biggest aviation proposals President Trump made in his first election bid was the privatisation of the country’s air traffic control (ATC) system. According to the plan, which was proposed in June 2017, air traffic control operations would be removed from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and put under the jurisdiction of a non-governmental authority.

The proposal, said the White House, would reduce delays, improve the industry’s safety records and accelerate investments. “The time has come to embrace a bolder vision of what our Nation’s ATC system can be and how best to move forward to achieve it,” read a White House statement.

Trump’s proposal gathered momentum in the sector –  with airlines such as United welcoming the project – but was opposed by Democrats and did not get enough support to move forward.

President Trump has also boasted about how his strict policy on commercial aviation has helped increase security. In a tweet posted on 2 January 2018, Trump wrote: “Good news – it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record.”

The announcement was immediately debunked by the CNN, which showed that there hadn’t been any deaths since the 2009 Colgan Air crash, in which 50 people died.

The Muslim Ban and other security measures

Considered one of the most controversial executive orders ever issued by the Trump administration, the Executive Order 13769 – also known as Muslim ban – created a lot of issues to the aviation industry, fostering confusion and uncertainty.

“This brings a mix of administrative confusion, impact and uncertainty for many travellers as well as practical operational headaches and complexities for airlines in planning their flight programmes,” aviation consultant John Strickland told Reuters at the time.

Airlines including Emirates and Etihad were forced to make adjustments to their staff, making sure that pilots and cabin crew members coming from the seven banned Muslim-majority countries were not working on flights to the US.

International organisations, including the International Air Transport Association (IATA), also expressed their concern regarding the lack of warning given by the US.

“We urge all governments to provide sufficient advance coordination of changes in entry requirements so that travellers can clearly understand them and airlines can efficiently implement them,” said the organisation.

IATA also urged governments such as the US to avoid long-term use of extraterritorial measures, including the requirement imposed by the Transportation Security Administration for airlines to conduct interviews with passengers before flying to the US.

“These cannot be long-term solutions and airlines should not be caught in the middle, picking up the pieces and bearing unplanned expenses for an indeterminate period when governments cannot agree on measures needed for the security of their citizens,” commented IATA director-general Alexandre de Juniac.

Trump 2020: an aviation roadmap to recovery?

Like in many other countries, the US aviation industry was heavily hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent worldwide travel restrictions.

According to a US Congressional Research Service paper published on 17 August, since March passenger activity in the US has been down by 75% compared to 2019 with numbers not expected to return to normal before 2023.

In March, the US had allocated $25bn through the CARES Act, in order to prevent the industry from making more job cuts.

Later on in August, President Trump initially expressed support for a plan to provide a further $25bn aid to US airlines and airports, but on 17 September airline CEOs met with White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows to reiterate the need for the government to approve these relief funds.

 

Joe Biden – the greener future of aviation

Despite avoiding to centre his campaign around it, Biden’s plan for the future of aviation is outlined in his presidential agenda.

When talking about infrastructure, Biden’s focus is on rebuilding aviation while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“If we transform our modes of transportation and the sources of energy that power them, we can make real progress toward reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” read his manifesto.

In order to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, Biden has pledged to finance the development of low-carbon aviation and shipping technologies, investing, over ten years, $400bn in clean energy innovation.

Investments are expected to help reduce the cost of biofuels, increase their energy density as well as develop engines to power long-haul planes and work alongside the International Civil Aviation Organization to share the technologies with other countries.

Biden has also pledged to improve US airports by doubling down funds through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Programme, which aims to provide grants to agencies for the development of airports.

Biden has also promised to make sure that the country will maintain a safe aviation system, working with the FAA to implement its NextGen technology system to improve safety.