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American Airlines CEO not worried about Trump travel ban’s effect on business

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said he favors privatizing the country’s air traffic control system.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said he favors privatizing the country’s air traffic control system. Star-Telegram

American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said Thursday that he hadn’t noticed any change in international travel in the weeks since President Donald Trump announced his support of an executive order to suspend immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.

“Over the last few weeks we haven’t seen a material decline in travel from international destinations,” Parker said. “But at the same time there has been a lot of capacity added, so there’s lower fares too.”

American Airlines, Fort Worth’s largest employer, does not fly to any of the seven countries listed on Trump’s initial travel ban, which was blocked in court. The executive order spawned protests at American’s major hub, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

“We don’t fly to any of those countries, but certainly we had some customers who were transiting over some places we do fly to ... and there was some difficulty, but it wasn’t so much by airline employees,” Parker said. “I certainly hope that won’t happen again, but it was handled much more by government officials than airline officials.”

Parker was in Washington on Thursday for the 2017 Aviation Summit, a gathering of aviation industry leaders. He scrapped his prepared remarks to take questions from the audience on a variety of topics, including revisions in air traffic control and the influence of Middle Eastern carriers in the U.S. market.

Parker, along with executives from United and Alaska airlines, stated his support for privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system and opposed the expansion of government-subsidized carriers like Emirates in U.S. markets.

“You’re taking a lot longer to get from one place to another because of the system we have in place,” Parker said of air traffic control. “It’s archaic versus what’s in place in other countries.”

Commercial airline carriers support a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania that would turn over control of air traffic control from the Federal Aviation Administration to a private nonprofit with congressional oversight. The bill made it out of the House Transportation Committee in the last Congress but did not move to the floor after some Republicans objected.

Opponents of the legislation include general aviation pilots and groups that would see increased fees if a private entity took over.

Hours before Parker’s remarks, Bob Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines, welcomed Trump’s Twitter attention to help change the air traffic control system.

“Clinging to the technical residue of another age is the last thing we want to do. The people in this room can make this happen,” Crandall said. “If you’re a member of Congress, lend Chairman Shuster your support. If you’re part of the administration, grab this and run with it. It’s a classic example of the kind of forward-looking investment on which you ran for election. And tell your big boss to start tweeting out those who claim to want smaller government and more efficiency.”

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