Fines and complaints

It’s been noted that fines levied against airlines by the FAA have risen sharply over the past 2 years and they show no signs of leveling off either.  USA Today in the Sky reports that Airtran was fined $20,000 for advertising $39 fares instead of the $44 they actually were.  Delta was fined for improperly displaying taxes and fees on some fares.  Other airlines are now getting fined for blatantly violating their own policies on lost luggage or for treating handicapped people inappropriately. 

Many see these fines as draconian and I see them as an example of what largely has been wrong w/ the Federal Aviation Administration for decades.  They are just way too close to the industry that they are supposed to regulate and govern.  That doesn’t mean that I advocate an adversarial position on the part of the FAA  towards airlines.  And it doesn’t mean that the FAA needs to make hay with the public by portraying itself as “tough” either. 

It means that the FAA lost its objectivity long ago and while I do applaud the reversal of that direction in many cases, I”m unhappy to suddenly seeing the FAA treat airlines like they are rats now.  The truth is, we, the people, created the monster (FAA) and we, the people, allowed the airline industry to grossly influence that agency for far too long.  Of course the airlines used all the influence they could to move the agency that governs their operations in the direction they preferred.  It’s an exercise in self preservation and no one should be surprised by it.

What we do need is a reorganization of that federal agency so that it can become less political and less influence by airlines.  While airlines *should* have some input on regulations that will govern them, they should not get to write the rules and hand them over to the FAA.  The FAA shouldn’t be bobbing and weaving to the political tunes written by Congress and/or the Executive either. 

It really should be operating much more independently like the Federal Reserve.  It needs to be a bit more above the fray and a independent enough to hold airlines to a tough standard when it comes to safety and fair play.  In fact, the FAA has been so unduly influenced and, at many times, unaccountable for its decisions and actions, we’ve exacerbate the problem by demanding more accountability via Congress and the Secretary of the Department of Transportation.  The FAA now simply reacts.

But the FAA needs to plan.  It needs to plan for the long term and it needs to be able to meet demands for qualified staff and it needs to govern airlines independently, fairly and appropriate to the times.  By operating independently, I also mean that its budget needs to come out from under Congressional whimsy (at least its administrative budget) and it needs to become stable and self-supporting for the long term. 

It needs to focus on providing better systems and great excellence when it comes to air traffic control.  We, as a country, are woefully behind the curve when it comes to these systems and we’re following, not leading.  This isn’t a corrupt government agency but it’s one that is pulled in too many directions all too often and it is far too frequently subject to conflicting influences and opinions.  It is an agency that needs to be a bit more above the fray and able to do the right thing.

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