Alfred Kahn

There is probably no one more villified for the 1978 deregulation of airlines in the United States than Alfred E. Kahn.  The Cornell University professor died at age 93 this past monday.

What would probably surprise many, especially those born prior to the 1970′s, is that Kahn had no background in airlines.  Despite that handicap, he did actually learn the arcane language and strategies of airlines as Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board.  Mr. Kahn actually had to be pressured by both President Jimmy Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale before taking the job.

Prior to taking the job, airlines were just “marginal costs with wings” to him, said Kahn.

Was Kahn successful?  I would argue that he was although he left a gaping hole in what he architected that still plagues airlines today:  airlines were deregulated but their labor wasn’t.  Only the price side of the equation was ever really deregulated.  That’s caused more than 30 years of problems for airlines and it’s a problem that really is no closer to a solution than it was in 1978.  One only has to look at who enjoyed political power in 1978 to understand why.

You can read Alfred E. Kahn’s obituary in the New York Times.


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