Two Good-News Aviation Items

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/03/two-good-news-aviation-items/254777/