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Trump lays out plan to privatize air traffic control system

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U.S. President Donald Trump (C) signs the air traffic control initiative at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Donald Trump outlined a plan on Monday to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system to modernize outdated systems and lower the cost of flying, but the proposal faced immediate criticism from Democrats.

Trump’s White House East Room announcement on air traffic control is part of a week-long push to publicize his plans to overhaul the country’s aging infrastructure as the White House confronts a growing probe into alleged ties between his campaign and Russia.

Trump described his plan as representing an “air travel revolution”, urging the U.S. Congress to separate it from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We’re proposing reduced wait times, increased route efficiency and far fewer delays. 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.

REFILE CORRECTING BYLINE U.S. President Donald Trump announces his initiative on air traffic control in the United States from the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S. June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Executives from United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines [HAII.UL], American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which are all represented by Airlines for America, attended the Trump speech. The group praised the Trump plan.

The proposal to privatize the air traffic control system will encounter major hurdles in Congress where Democrats and some Republicans oppose it. Trump has frequently said that ongoing modernization efforts were already obsolete.

In a summary document released by the White House, the Trump administration proposes a three-year transition period to shift oversight of air traffic control.

The proposal says a board made up of airline, union and airport officials would oversee the non-profit entity. The new entity should honor existing labor agreements but controllers would no longer be federal employees.

The Federal Aviation Administration 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.

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House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Trump was recycling “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.”

“Today we are taking the first important step to clearing the runway for more jobs, lower prices and much, much, much better transportation,” Trump said.

On Wednesday, Trump will travel to Cincinnati to talk about improvements to the 12,000 miles (19,300 km) of inland waterways, dams, locks and ports critical for shipping farm products, and will deliver a speech about his vision for infrastructure.

The infrastructure push comes as the White House seeks to refocus attention on core promises to boost jobs and the economy made by Trump last year during his campaign for office.

Those pledges have been eclipsed by the political furor over Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. That drama will come to a head on Thursday when former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey, who was leading the Russia probe until Trump fired him, testifies before a U.S. Senate panel.

Trump has denied any collusion between Russia and his campaign. He has struggled to keep the spotlight on plans that could give him a political boost.

The infrastructure events this week were in the works before Comey’s hearing was scheduled. They will give Trump the opportunity to provide some counterprogramming to the drumbeat of Russia news.

Privatization advocates argue that spinning off air traffic control into a non-government entity would allow for a more efficient system and rapid, cost-effective improvements of technology, in part by avoiding the government procurement process.

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

The administration’s formal budget proposal unveiled in May that included plans to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system would boost the budget deficit by about $45 billion over 10 years.

 

America

Six shot in Florida, suspect on run

All six victims were adults, Xinhua news agency quoted deputies as saying.

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Picture Credit : @abc3340

Washington, Oct 22 : Six people were shot, leaving three of them in critical condition, in Jacksonville in the US state of Florida, police said Sunday.

All six victims were adults, Xinhua news agency quoted deputies as saying.

Local reports said the incident took place blocks away from where Jacksonville Jaguars were playing against Houston Texans at TIAA Bank Field, the Jaguars stadium.

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Saudi Arabia to hit back if US imposes sanctions

“The kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action,” the report added.

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Riyadh, Oct 14 : Saudi Arabia threatened on Sunday to hit back if the US were to impose sanctions on Riyadh in the wake of the disappearance of a Saudi journalist, according to the state-run SPA news agency.

US President Donald Trump had warned on Saturday that his administration could severely punish Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, if the kingdom was found responsible for the disappearance and possible murder of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, reports Efe news.

“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations,” the report by SPA said, citing an unnamed official source.

“The kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action,” the report added.

Earlier on Sunday, the Saudi stock market plunged nearly seven percent amid fears of imminent US sanctions.

Before Saturday’s comments, Trump had been reluctant to criticize Saudi Arabia and had said on Thursday that he was against cancelling the $110 billion US-Saudi arms deal over the journalist’s disappearance.

The possible murder of Khashoggi, a US permanent resident in self-imposed exile who had written critically against the Saudi monarchy, has generated a far stronger international backlash against the kingdom than the ongoing Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has caused widespread famine in the already impoverished Arab country.

IANS

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Sugar mills worry over surplus, talk of ‘industry collapse’

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New Delhi, Oct 14 : With the availability of sugar set to reach an unprecedented level of 44 million tonnes thanks to huge unconsumed stock from last year and expected higher production this year, an imminent threat of “industry collapse” is being talked about. This has pushed mills to consider producing globally-accepted high-quality refined sugar as the most promising way to dispose off the surplus.

The decision of Brazil, the world’s largest sugar producer, to lower production this year has given Indian industry an opportunity to fill the space. However, it will have to live up to global expectations, the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories (NFCSF) has said.

It said the mills are planning to boost their exports by improving quality of sugar to 45 ICUMSA grade, a high quality refined grade and considered one of the highest purity levels globally.

“Currently, we produce sugar whose grade is between 100-150 ICUMSA. Till now, the domestic consumption offset the domestic output. So Indian sugar mills never bothered about producing high refined quality sugar as per the global standards,” NFCSF Managing Director Prakash Naiknavare told IANS.

ICUMSA is a global body and its rating is an international unit for expressing the purity of the sugar, which is directly related to the colour of the sweetener.

Brazil has decided to cut down sugar production by earmarking more cane for manufacturing ethanol, so India finds a space where the domestic surplus can be accommodated.

“To achieve it, we will have to produce sugar of 45 ICUMSA grade. It will take minimal efforts and capital to upgrade the existing machinery,” Naiknavare said.

India has a surplus (opening stock) of 10.5 million tonnes from the last season and it is expected to produce around 33.5 million tonnes of the sweetener in 2018-19 starting October.

So the total availability of sugar this year will be around 44 million tonnes against the expected domestic consumption of 26 million tonnes, thus putting a “burden” on the mills to clear huge sugar stocks in the backdrop of depressed retail prices — around Rs 37 per kg in the national capital compared to around Rs 40-43 a year ago.

As the sugar output in Brazil is to go down by almost 10 million tonnes, India is set to become the largest sugar producer in the world this year.

Naiknavare said it was “a god-sent” gift, which had provided India “with an opportunity to make perception that India can be a great destination” for high-quality refined sugar.

As per the initial estimates of the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), which represents private sugar mills in the country, India is set to produce around 35 million tonnes in the 2018-19 season starting October against 32.25 million tonnes in the previous year.

The NFCSF, however, said that the 2018-19 production figures would be around 33.5 million tonnes owing to the infection of white grub in Maharashtra and Karnataka, which damages roots leading to the death of cane.

The government can store three million tonnes. It will also help mills to export five million tonnes under the Minimum Indicative Export Quota (MIEQ) by compensating expenses towards internal transport, freight handling and other charges.

“The government’s assistance and incentives have been helpful to the industry. Even if we take all these into account, including 26 million tonnes of domestic consumption, there will be surplus of 10 million tonnes. If it is not disposed, the industry will collapse,” said Naiknavare, adding all stakeholders, including the ISMA, had started brainstorming on how to dispose the surplus.

The government, while announcing a bail-out package for the industry in June this year, had fixed minimum selling price (MSP) at the mill gate of Rs 2,900 per tonnes to ensure that retail prices do not fall further.

The average price sugar received at global market in last 15 days is roughly Rs 2,200- 2,400 per tonne.

However, the prices have been on the increase from last few days — 10.97 cents per pound on September 28 to 13.11 cents per pound on October 9 according to the International Sugar Organisation — a trend the Indian sugar industry finds positive.

Acting on the industry’s request, the central government had given a subsidy of Rs 55 per tonne of sugarcane to help mills to clear cane farmers’ arrears.

(Saurabh Katkurwar can be contacted at [email protected])

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