Air Transportation Safety is Global, Delays National
Why Flying Has Never Been Safer (Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2018) reports on the amazing worldwide 2017 safety record for air transportation. For Stoa policy debaters and NCFCA LD debaters, air travel safety has many case implications.
For the globalism/nationalism debate, airline safety worldwide follows from international companies and global (mostly non-government) safety standards. Boeing, Airbus, Embraer, and Bombardier have designed and built safe aircraft for decades, but their new and used airplanes flying now are even safer. Global aircraft leasing companies have become key to the safety process:
Big business also deserves some credit for reducing accidents. Major banks and large aircraft-leasing companies now make new planes available to airlines in less-developed countries at affordable prices. That squeezes out small leasing companies renting old, poorly maintained aircraft to startup airlines.
To safeguard their investment, big leasing companies and banks require top-notch maintenance on planes, and monitor how airlines use them. That’s created an important check against cutting corners.
Airline Code sharing is key too. Checking on flights from Seattle to the March 8-10 16th annual International World Schools Debate Tournament in Ljutomer, Slovenia, United Airlines has an award ticket available on Lufthansa to Frankfurt then Adria Airways to Slovenia. I’ve not heard of Adria Airways, but because of code sharing with Lufthansa (and United), safety standards are high:
…global alliances and code-sharing partnerships, where one airline puts its own flight number on another carrier’s flight and sells the other airline’s seats to customers. Regulators require airlines to verify safety measures on partner airlines. That’s forced small airlines to step up their maintenance, training and procedures to pass inspection by big partners.
Nationalism in the airline safety world might would seem to support each country having its own national airline and national aircraft safety agency with its own national inspection regulations. National air traffic control systems might want to use the official national language in guiding aircraft in national airspace. But all this would create expensive and dangerous complexity and complications for pilots and airlines flying from country to country.
So we have instead global airlines, global air traffic control standards (where everyone speaks English) and global aircraft safety standards insisted on by global aircraft leasing companies.
National regulatory agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforces regulations and tries to monitor aircraft safety, but also prevents the adoption of newer, safer air traffic control systems and technologies. In A vote to modernize the air traffic control system (Los Angeles Daily News, October 6, 2017), the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole explains:
America’s efforts to modernize its air traffic control system are over budget, behind schedule and far less advanced than in other countries. A bill aiming to improve the nation’s air traffic control system by removing it from the Federal Aviation Administration, the national air safety regulator, is expected to get a vote in Congress this month.
The U.S. air traffic control system is more costly than it should be, and its funding via annual congressional appropriations is unstable and unpredictable. Moreover, having the same agency operate the system and regulate its safety — self-regulation — is a conflict of interest.
Politics is always a problem with economic nationalism. The President and Congress advocate protecting various government agencies whose services could be handled by for-profit or non-profit firms and associations. The U.S. air traffic control system, is one example. Airport security is another, as is ownership and management of entire airports.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has an August 16, 2017 report online: Airport Privatization: Issues and Options for Congress (pdf)
The Cato Institute has this November 18, 2016 report: Privatizing U.S. Airports | Downsizing the Federal Government
The Bipartisan Policy Center’s June 20, 2017 report, Policy Check-In: Status of Airport P3s in the U.S. looks at airport “Public Private Partnerships” (P3s):
Investments in airport facilities, of which the ATC [Air Traffic Control] system is only one piece, are a top-of-mind consideration for many local leaders. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that passenger enplanements will jump 46 percent over the next 20 years, along with consistent growth in cargo traffic, underlining how critical airports are to future trade, travel, and economic growth. …
The article further notes:
Despite many international and domestic examples of their potential, partnerships with the private sector are an underutilized tool to modernize airport facilities, increase efficiency, and reduce costs.
Politically managed bureaucracies like the FAA, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), as well as city, county, and port-owned U.S. airports, raise costs and disrupt lives though questionable management and policies.
Consider Airline: 70,000 Passengers Missed Flights Due to Security Lines (Time, May 26, 2016), which reports on American Airlines delays:
More than 70,000 American Airlines passengers have missed their flights this year due to “excessive wait times,” according to a company executive. [and] “over 40,000 checked bags were delayed in TSA screening and did not travel on their scheduled flight.”
Philipovitch’s figures, which represent only a fraction of the total air passengers affected by recent security line delays at airports nationwide, highlight the severity of the problem as officials scramble to find solutions.
Also, Airport Security: Astoundingly Expensive and 95 Percent Ineffective (CityLab, June 3, 2015) notes further problems with TSA missing flight risks and being expensive.
Good economists try to look beyond the “seen” consequences of such regulatory mishaps. How do travelers respond to higher ticket prices and unpredictable TSA delays at airports? For shorter trips, many choose to drive instead of fly. And driving is dangerous. Which Is Safer: Airplanes or Cars? (Fortune, July 20, 2017) compares:
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2015, there were 32,166 fatal motor vehicle accidents that lead to just over 35,000 deaths. That comes out to be 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, and nearly 11 people for every 100,000 U.S. residents.
Contrast these numbers to U.S. airline accidents recorded by the National Transportation Safety Board: In 2015, preliminary statistics revealed a total of 27 total accidents — zero of which was fatal. Of the accidents that did occur, just 0.155 happened for every 100,000 flight hours. Airline accidents per one million miles flown came in at a rate of 0.0035.
Any federal transportation policy that causes travelers to shift from flying to driving will add to the 30,000+ people who are killed each year on Americans roads and highways.