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…and finds that it’s not really a local priority. “We have other issues that are far more compelling,” says visitors bureau president Rick Hughes. And little wonder: Kansas City is a low-density, sprawling, suburban city without a solid downtown residential core. Most people would have to drive to rail stations to use the system. Kansas City compares unfavorably with many other big cities with airport rail (either currently operating or planned): San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Washington. All of these cities are dense, and airport rail includes not only tourists and business travelers but also residents getting to and from airports. (I love the Metro connection to Washington’s Reagan National Airport.)

Even though I’ve castigated the Washington Post for trying to manipulate Washingtonians into feeling inferior for not having a rail link to Dulles Airport, I actually think rapid rail to Dulles would be a really good idea. When airport rail is pursued for tangible and real benefits — and not because “people see it as a sign of a major league city,” as KC’s transportation authority chief says — it’s a worthwhile investment.

But will it work in Kansas City? Think again.

Light rail to KCI is no sure draw [KC Star via Today in the Sky]

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The House Aviation Subcommittee is holding a hearing today on the environmental impact of aviation, especially emissions. I won’t be able to cover the entire session, but I’ll give you what I can.

Representative Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) offers his opening statement. He emphasizes that the need to reduce emissions is a corollary of the need to increase fuel efficiency for financial reasons. He is interested in hearing about alternative fuels. “We provided historic levels of funding” in HR 2881 to improve environmental performance, upgrade air traffic control, improve efficiency, and support aviation research.

In light of the European Union’s emissions-trading scheme (ETS), he says, “due to the global nature of aviation, any effort to reduce emissions must be done through ICAO” without affecting economic growth.

Ranking Member Tom Petri (R-Wisc.) praises recent technological achievements that will improve fuel efficiency. Raises concern that including U.S. airlines in European ETS would violate the recently-signed Open Skies agreement.

Panel I

Costello introduces the first panel. (more…)

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Alfred Kahn, the eminent economist and chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board who oversaw airline deregulation in the 1970s, has published a fascinating new working paper on the AEI Reg-Markets Center site. He addresses the difference between “liberal” and “progressive” views on economic policy and regulation, and he argues that “progressivism” as defined by those who claim its mantle today is not truly progressive — in fact, that it runs against the mainstream liberalism of the mid-twentieth century and its signature economic reforms, such as airline deregulation.

What does Kahn hold up as liberalism? (He is himself a proud liberal, appointed to the CAB by Jimmy Carter and later serving as Carter’s inflation adviser.) “Liberals . . . have historically advocated an open market—private, free enterprise, free trade—economy, with consumers best served by competition among producers and sellers, both internationally and domestically,” he writes. Thus, liberalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries consisted of fighting Republican tariffs, using antitrust laws to break apart monopolies, and supporting free public education and other social services designed to break down heightened income inequality. If this sounds suspiciously like the “progressive” movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, you’re not wrong. Kahn argues that liberalism is progressive but that the label “progressive” has been hijacked by radical populists:

As I will argue, partly on the basis of my own experience as a regulator, deregulator, and advisor on inflation to a liberal President, there is nothing either “progressive,” “liberal” or desirable about—successively—populist protectionism, xenophobia, competition-suppressing regulatory cartelization, repression of energy prices, recourse to price controls as a remedy or preventive of inflation or a rush to rein in or hamper the dynamic market processes of technological change—the major areas in which authentic liberals will continue to clash with latter-day “Progressives”.

How does this apply to aviation policy? (more…)

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In 1929, Juan Trippe, president of Pan American Airways, was competing for the lucrative airmail contract for Puerto Rico. (At that time, holding an airmail contract was virtually the only way for a U.S. airline to stay in business.) His competitor, West Indian Aerial Express, was already operating on the line and competing for the contract as well. Trippe’s cozy relationship with the postmaster general resulted in him winning the route, and West Indian closed down soon thereafter. “While we were developing an airline in the West Indies,” its owner said, “our competitors had been busy on the much more important job of developing a lobby in Washington.”

It’s still the same old story.

Source: T. A. Heppenheimer, Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation (New York: John Wiley, 1995).

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As I’ve written before, the failure of the FAA in the Southwest Airlines case and elsewhere seems to stem from a personnel problem. The safety inspection chain of command at the agency ignored and abetted an inspector who was consistently neglecting policies and procedures. This is not an indictment of the FAA’s collaborative approach to maintenance inspection. But at the hearing last week, Jim Oberstar and many others (GOP and Dem) criticized the “cozy” relationship between the airlines and the FAA and called for a return to the adversarial approach to regulation. Stung by congressional criticism, the FAA responded by swinging wildly toward austerity, the biggest example of which is this week’s American Airlines fiasco.

A WSJ editorial today pins the blame for the AA cancellations on Oberstar, whom it says the FAA is kowtowing to: “An industry-wide ‘audit’ commenced, and FAA inspectors set about finding something – anything – awry with an aircraft to show Mr. Oberstar and other Congressional overseers that the agency was up to the job of enforcing federal maintenance requirements to the letter.”

The editorial continues:

Mr. Oberstar and other Democrats in Congress would just as soon do to the Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product and Safety Commission and other “consumer protection” agencies exactly what they’ve managed to do to the FAA inside of a month’s time. . . .

The FAA fiasco gives us a glimpse of what the world would look like under this reregulatory assault. It would mean that every business misstep, no matter how rare, could potentially result in industry-wide repercussions. Congress would call for more rules and greater enforcement, in the name of “safety.” And regulatory agencies would respond with overkill. The cost of doing business would rise, and consumers would pay for it in higher prices, less convenience or both.

Whether any of this would in fact produce safer toys or food or medicines is beside the point for lawmakers like Mr. Oberstar, whose real goal is to augment Washington’s power vis-a-vis industry. But it’s worth noting that in the case of air travel, safety gains have accompanied less regulation, not more.

We don’t need to change the way the FAA inspects aircraft. We need to change its circle-the-wagons culture and to root out personnel problems. A single Douglas Gawadzinski, left unchallenged, erodes institutional effectiveness. He and his supervisors should be dealt with, all the way up to top safety honcho Nick Sabatini. At the House hearing, Sabatini took “responsibility” for the FAA’s safety lapses. If he means that, he should probably resign. His successor should work not on public appeasement gestures (after this week of cancellations, I suspect the flying public has had it up to here with “safety”) but on sound personnel management.

Flying the Oberstar Skies [WSJ]

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BREAKING NEWS: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a lower court decision upholding New York state’s airline passenger’s bill of rights, ruling “that New York’s new state law interferes with federal law governing the price, route or service of an air carrier.” (Here’s my take from when the law was signed last summer, including this prediction: “This bill of rights will likely be found wanting in the court of law, but if not there, it will definitely be found deficient in the court of good business sense.”)

The decision applies the constitutional doctrine of federal preemption to overturn the state law, which clearly goes against the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (relevant section codified here): “Except as provided in this subsection, a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of at least 2 States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation under this subpart.

What does the opinion say? “The exceptions to which this provision refers are not applicable in this case. Thus, the PBR is preempted if it is ‘related to a price, route, or service of an air carrier.’ We conclude that it is.” There is an issue of standing, but this is resolved by the plaintiff’s other claim: “Air Transport [Association, the plaintiff] therefore cannot sue for a violation of the statute. Nevertheless, Air Transport is entitled to pursue its preemption challenge through its Supremacy Clause claim.”

The court concludes:

We hold that requiring airlines to provide food, water, electricity, and restrooms to passengers during lengthy ground delays does relate to the service of an air carrier and therefore falls within the express terms of the ADA’s preemption provision. As a result, the substantive provisions of the PBR, codified at section 251-g(1) of the New York General Business Law, are preempted. . . .

Rowe accordingly forecloses New York’s argument and the district court’s conclusion, see Air Transp., 528 F. Supp. 2d at 67, that classifying the PBR as a health and safety regulation or a matter of basic human necessities somehow shields it from the preemptive force of § 41713(b)(1). Onboard amenities, regardless of whether they are luxuries or necessities, still relate to airline service and fall within the express terms of the preemption provision — a conclusion, we note, that even the drafters of the PBR appear to have been unable to escape. . . .

Although the goals of the PBR are laudable and the circumstances motivating its enactment deplorable, only the federal government has the authority to enact such a law.

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The Internet is abuzz about the latest example of “eco- scandalous” airline behavior. An American Airlines flight from Chicago to London flew February 9 with only five passengers, using — reportedly — 22,000 gallons of Jet A. Why is this causing an uproar? The advocacy group Friends of the Earth considers it an “obscene waste of fuel” that raised each of the five travelers’ carbon footprints by “45 times.” Of course, there’s a sensible explanation for why the airline didn’t just scuttle the flight: “However, this would have left a plane load of west-bound passengers stranded in London Heathrow who were due to fly back to the US on the same aircraft. . . . We sought alternative flights for the west-bound passengers but heavy loads out of London that day meant that this was not possible.”

What is the environmentalists’ solution? “Governments must stop granting the aviation industry the unfair privileges that allow this to happen by taxing aviation fuel and including emissions from aviation in international agreements to tackle climate change.” These measures would have changed nothing about the total environmental impact of the February 9 flight. American needed the plane to be in London that day, emissions trading scheme or not, so it would just have to had bitten the bullet and to ponied up for its environmental impact. Emissions trading programs are meant to reduce the environmental impact of aviation systemically, not in one-off circumstances. It’s dishonest of Friends of the Earth not to acknowledge that their solutions would end up costing travelers more without ending these rare sorts of trips.

Plane flies five passengers from US to London [Telegraph]

Photo credit: Flickr user dyobmit. Used through a Creative Commons license.

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