Two Good-News Aviation Items

Returning to Internet-contact land, after quite a while out of range. Because of recent experiences with Australian airports -- in bustling Sydney and in rustic Hobart alike, the domestic terminal is metal-detector-only security screening; shoes stay on; no loupe-enhanced scrutiny of your "government issued ID" (because there is no ID check at all); jokey and relaxed air to the security process -- I will use this as the occasion to note two aviation-related developments that many readers mentioned last week.

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1) Re-regulate the airlines? Two items in the Washington Monthly, an article by Phillip Longman and Lina Khan, and a column by Ed Kilgore, make a strong argument that the policies strongly associated with the man on the right, the late Alfred Kahn, have proven flawed and should be reversed.

I knew and very much liked and admired Kahn when I met him during the Carter administration. He was Carter's "inflation czar" and an important economic-policy maker, but his real passion was de-regulation -- in an era when that was a relatively novel position for Democrats and still sounded like a shiny, new, post-Great Society concept for reform. I think that Kahn himself never lost his faith that deregulating the airlines was a great advance for the flying public and the country as a whole. See his views here and here. And, no doubt, air travel overall is much cheaper and more available to everyman, even as airlines have become steadily safer, through the deregulated era. But you'd have to be Mr. Gradgrind to love America's current air travel system, and the Washington Monthly articles do a good job of explaining why, plus what could be done.

2) De-regulate the Kindle (etc)? Thanks to many readers who sent references last week to the heartening news that the FAA is reconsidering its nonsensical-but-bureaucratically-understandable "anything with an Off-On switch" ban on Kindles, noise-reducing headsets, ad other electronic devices when planes are taxiing, taking off, or landing.
     Nonsensical: pilots themselves are using iPads, noise-reducing headsets, and all sorts of other gear right in the cockpit.
     Bureaucratically-understandable: the FAA has to be sure that there is no risk from any combination or devices being used in any airliner model in any mode of flight. Otherwise, the next time there is a crash, the people who changed the rules will be fired, blamed, sued, called up for hearings.

Thus the FAA is undertaking the reform process in the most bureaucratically cumbersome way: testing every device, separately, in every model of airliner. For details, see the New York Times, PC Magazine, and Apple Insider. Still, it's a start. More soon.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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