Thursday, July 28, 2011

Aviation in America: How to Spoil a Good Reputation

Sometimes being a mom helps me make sense of the world, because even when the world isn’t sensible, it at least is familiar. Take, for example, spoiled children. We’ve all seen these children, pitching a fit at the grocery store because mommy and daddy won’t purchase that tempting something on display in the check out line. (Not, my kids of course.) 

This is the image that comes to mind when I read about America’s budget impasse between Democrats and Republicans.

Only in this case, something more significant than supermarket embarrassment is at stake. When the Republicans inserted into the Federal Aviation Administration’s operational re-authorization bill, a provision to eliminate subsidies to rural airports, the Democrats said “hold on” and refused to pass the legislation. Without a house and senate agreement, the FAA lost a chunk of its authority to operate

It immediately furloughed 4,000 workers and suspended action on a number of projects including the extremely important work moving US airspace to next gen capability. 

Just to be clear, it is a $16 million difference of opinion that is costing the federal government $30 million a day in uncollectable aviation taxes alone. 

Yes, this is a costly game and I’m not only talking about money, I’m talking about a loss of international prestige and leadership.  Let’s just look at the next gen aspects for a minute. Australia and Tibet have more advanced air navigation systems than the USA. The FAA has been plugging along at a pace that is frustrating US carriers and now this forced suspension of FAA spending will further slow progress.

As I travel around the world, the near unanimous impression of the FAA that I hear is that it is a premier aviation organization; Slow-to-act sometimes, sure. Not distant enough from political considerations in its decision-making, undoubtedly. But as an agency effective in achieving and maintaining high levels of safety, it has been and still is a global leader. That’s what I hear anyway.

Until recently the same might be said of American government as a whole. But these days it is looks like the spoiled children have grown up and taken their tantrums to Washington where they are embarrassing themselves, eroding progress in aviation and discrediting the nation.
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