President Trump assailed the state of the nation’s infrastructure in a meeting with top U.S. airline executives Thursday, promising to roll back regulations and remake the country’s transportation system.
“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, so you’re going to be so happy with Trump,” the president said at the White House meeting before adding: “I think you already are.”
“I want to be able to do things for you,” Trump said.
Trump cited his pilot’s insights to offer a critique of government technology improvement efforts.
“My pilot, he’s a smart guy,” Trump said. “The government is using the wrong equipment and instituting a massive, multibillion project, but they’re using the wrong type of equipment, so let’s find out about that.”
Some in Congress and the airline industry have been critical of sluggish attempts to modernize the air traffic control system, an effort dubbed NextGen, and have called for privatizing air traffic controllers and other Federal Aviation Administration staff.
Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly argued that money spent thus far on the modernization, the industry’s top priority, has done little to help, according to a pool report from the meeting.
“I hear we’re spending billions and billions of dollars, it’s a system that’s totally out of whack,” Trump said of the air traffic system.
Trump asked why airlines allowed the government to invest in a faulty system. Kelly said the airlines are not “in control” of those decisions.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the meeting included discussion of privatizing the air traffic control system. “The president recognizes that there needs to be a modernizing of the air traffic control [system]. It’s a decades-old system, and he recognizes that there needs to be investments,” Spicer said.
In his remarks, Trump also pointed to areas where he thinks the United States is lagging.
“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,” Trump said, before looking around the room at executives who make their living moving people by air and adding: “I don’t want to compete with your business! But we don’t have one.”
After a bout of laughter subsided, Trump said: “It’s the same thing with our airports. Our airports used to be the best, now they’re at the bottom of the rung.”
He promised to cut regulations, but he did not say which ones in the part of the meeting open to reporters.
“You people are regulated probably as much as almost anybody, although I can think of a couple of industries that are even worse,” Trump said.
Trump also said big changes to reduce “the overall tax burden on businesses” are coming fast, with a “phenomenal” announcement possible in two or three weeks.
Trump has promised a $1 trillion infrastructure push driven by tax breaks, an idea that has been challenged by outside economists.
After Delta chief executive Ed Bastian introduced himself, Trump noted that the airline was “doing well.”
When an executive from Los Angeles International Airport noted LAX was the seventh-largest in the world, Trump said, “We’ll make it number one,” according a pool report.
The president was told that Atlanta holds that title.
Trump said he loves Georgia.
John Wagner and Philip Rucker contributed to this report.