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February 12, 2016

The Big Threat in Aviation: Politicians in the Cockpit

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By: Phil Derner Jr.
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Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
The news was abuzz yesterday with coverage of Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and his proposal of federal legislation that would set minimum seat size requirements on airline flights. Due to its impractically — and what was a poorly researched topic on his part — the concept was thankfully shot down by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Regardless of the proposal’s outcome, Cohen will look like a hero to his constituents, as though he is really looking out for them. His loss on the floor is still a social win in his district and, though I don’t know him personally and cannot see inside his head to know his true intention, I’ll bet that was his plan all along.

I’m tempted to say, “Beating up on the airlines is the new black,” but the entire aviation industry has had to deal with these type of useless ideas for decades. Aviation has become a cookie jar filled with votes that politicians on either side of the aisle can reach into whenever they want so that they can look like they are truly for the people. Unfortunately, the only real victims in this are those very voters.

Airlines operate in an intricate, scientifically complicated environment, and it is understandable that the traveling public is unaware of all of the inner workings of the airline industry. Sadly, we have many politicians that prey on this naiveté by proposing legislation that makes little sense in real-world application within the industry — unbeknownst to trusting voters who think they are being looked out for. A majority of the proposed regulations pertain to customer service issues, but setting federal mandates for these concerns only serves to further complicate an already over-regulated industry. I don’t see Cohen also proposing how much meat Subway puts on their sandwiches, nor do I see Senator Charles Schumer, D-New York, demanding a limit to the amount of advertising allowed in magazines to maintain reader experience. So why take aim at the airline industry? Because it is an easy target, and the public, unfortunately, doesn’t realize that they are being jerked around.

It’s simply a game of tug-of-war. And voters don’t even realize that they’re the rope.

While some politicians are busy playing customer advocate, others are complaining about the slow speed at which technological advancements, such as NextGen, are being implemented. Take, for example, the Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, proposed by House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa. The AIRR Act is a six-year FAA-reauthorization bill that will attempt to strip air traffic control from the FAA and place it under the authority of an independent board that would be controlled by the airline industry. This proposition came on the heels of complaints that the aviation industry has not modernized its computer systems quickly enough.

Meanwhile they themselves and their fellow party members (such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas) are the very ones that have been shooting down the FAA’s budget proposals for years. I’m not necessarily saying privatization is a bad thing, but it wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion if Republications and Democrats were not themselves perpetrators of the problem to begin with.

Is Senator Schumer rated to fly that?

Is Senator Schumer rated to fly that?

So why does the industry have to endure this turmoil? Because of political posturing. Republicans and Democrats have been shooting down the FAA’s budget proposals for years. And now they can use the issue of funding to push a very specific agenda: privatization. It’s simply a game of tug-of-war. And voters don’t even realize that they’re the rope.

When it comes to Cohen’s seat-size proposal, implementation would only have lead to higher fares and complication in what is currently an incredibly successful safety culture. In turn, these effects would give politicians yet another reason to get on their soapbox and further bash the industry in a never-ending, vicious cycle.

Air fares are the result of market factors. Aviation safety is built on lessons learned in crash investigations, subsequent regulation from administrators, and the continuous training and professionalism of industry employees, not by political intervention. The elected officials that truly are looking out for you are the ones that show trust in the very administrators that they put into place, and who champion the ideas and budgets that come from those knowledgeable and aware minds. Lying to voters about what’s going on behind the curtain hinders the efforts of hundreds of thousands of aviation workers, while the only thing truly being veiled from the public are reelection aspirations.

Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has airline experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. He currently runs NYCAviation and performs duties as an aviation expert for the media. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.


  • Reagan Costa

    Great read! Politics oh politics. I have never heard the quote before”Its simply a game of tug-of-war…” I love/hate that its so true. I have just made arrangements with family in Oregon to attend flight school. I have heard great things about http://www.flyhaa.com/airplane/courses/ I am excited and worried for what the future of flying offers. I find myself getting too hung up on what may come which slows down my progress in the NOW. It always amazes me how a new politician comes along and want to make their mark or reinvent the wheel. Good luck to us all and stay educated to the not too bright in power don’t lower our quality of life!