Thursday, March 15, 2012

Beating Bad Timing

The difference between old people and young people is a sense of time. (Well, that and the experience thing.) 10 years to a young man of 20 is forever. 10 years to a man of 50 -- with kids that are 20 -- is just the blink of an eye. It’s the way life is. You can’t give young people a sense of time. No matter how much you wish you could. It’s like that experience thing. The only way to get it is to live it.

Now that we’ve got the hack philosophy out of the way, let’s get back to that article on re-regulating the airlines I was talking about yesterday. It was a bad day for it to come out. NATCA and the Administration announced a contract extension yesterday. That grabbed the air traffic control crowd’s attention. The resignation letter of the guy from Goldman Sachs got everyone else’s attention.

Lawyers, Thieves and Bankers -- what else is new? Firing air traffic controllers was new. As a matter of fact, if you bothered to follow that link above, you would see that -- even 30 years later -- every time air traffic controllers make the news, the ghost of Ronald Reagan rises to haunt the occasion.

Sticking with my theme of time (even bad time), you need to think of the timing. Ronald Reagan didn’t deregulate the airlines. Jimmy Carter did. It was a sign of the times -- as the article Terminal Sickness pointed out.

”In 1978, however, a group of liberals including Ralph Nader, Ted Kennedy, Kennedy’s then Senate aide Stephen Breyer, and an economist named Alfred Kahn, whom President Jimmy Carter chose to run the CAB, conjured up a plan to drive down the cost of airline fares by fostering more price competition among airlines. Though they called it “deregulation,” the practical effect of eliminating the CAB, especially after subsequent administrations abandoned antitrust enforcement as well, was to shift control of the airline industry from experts answerable to the public to corporate boardrooms and Wall Street.”

Regulation (it was thought) was bumping up against the wall. People thought it had run its course. Coupled with the laissez-faire policies of the incoming Reagan Administration, it turned into the disaster we see today.

”But now we find ourselves at a moment when nearly all the promises of the airline deregulators have clearly proved false. If you’re a member of the creative class who rarely does business in the nation’s industrial heartland or visits relatives there, you might not notice the magnitude of economic disruption being caused by lost airline service and skyrocketing fares. But if you are in the business of making and trading stuff beyond derivatives and concepts, you probably have to go to places like Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis, or Minneapolis, and you know firsthand how hard it has become to do business these days in such major heartland cities, which are increasingly cut off from each other and from the global economy.”

These are not insubstantial cities. Imagine if we proposed tearing up the Intestates leading into all of these cities. Yes, it is insane. That’s the point. We’ve torn up the aviation version of a six -lane interstate and left them with a two lane blacktop.

I have to admit, I missed this trend. I knew St. Louis was gone. I’d heard Pittsburgh had been cut back. But I didn’t know the trend had continued. That’s what it’s like being on the outside. You miss the details available when you’re on the inside. Which brings me to a good place to stop today.

You controllers are on the inside. You have a chance to notice these details that are important to the future of our country. You are also public servants. I think it is your duty to point out these trends which affect our country’s future. I even believe you should advocate for better public policies.

It shouldn’t be too hard of a sell to the controllers at Pittsburgh, Memphis, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Minneapolis. Just because it is their interests doesn’t mean it isn’t in the Public’s best interest. Ask the pilots that used to fly the airplanes into these places. Ask their passengers. Ask the cities’ taxpayers that are still paying for all the infrastructure. Everyone wants a better aviation system. Controllers happen to be in a unique position to offer a public policy that will give us one.

The pendulum swings. For over 30 years it has been swinging towards the deregulated disaster we currently know. It’s time to swing back the other way. Give it a shove. Advocate for regulation of the airline industry. It’s never a bad time to correct a mistake.

Don Brown
March 15, 2012

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