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Industry Urges Coherent National Air Policy

November 19, 2009 By: George Dooley

Never has the future of U.S. commercial aviation been so threatened, or has there been so much at stake, the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) said in a signatory letter to Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation (DOT). The letter, signed by 60 travel management companies, unions, corporations and associations including ASTA, applauded LaHood’s leadership in forming the Federal Advisory Committee on the Future of Aviation. Urging a coherent national air transportation policy, the BTC warned against vested interests opposed to change and reform.

"We deregulated 31 years ago but never had an adequate debate regarding public policy objectives and desired outcomes," the letter reads. "Instead of a coherent air transportation policy we have a patchwork of legislative and regulatory prescriptions that are a consequence of lurching from crisis to crisis. We need to develop public-policy objectives and a framework for effective analysis and oversight such that it does not take a tragedy outside Buffalo to recognize a flawed regional airline business model. Or, to identify that there is significant safety and security risk when U.S. aircraft are sent to third-world countries to be overhauled by workers whose backgrounds cannot be verified, who are not tested for drugs and alcohol, who rely on pictures in manufacturers’ manuals to perform repairs because they cannot read detailed English instructions and whose oversight by FAA and TSA is uneven, or non-existent."

The BTC warned that the DOT initiative risks failure if it proceeds, as many previous commissions have, in the absence of well-debated and agreed upon objectives for U.S. national transportation and air transportation policies.

"You asked for suggestions regarding the top five problems facing the industry," the BTC said. "The über problem from which virtually every other major industry difficulty subsequently flows is that the U.S. has never had a coherent national air transportation policy that has been updated over time. What’s more, one cannot select the right problems to address, or adequately evaluate solutions, unless policy objectives are set forth in a clear manner

"When initiatives such as the 1993 Baliles Commission fail to produce desired changes, some voice frustration, but fail to ask why," the BTC continued. "Recommendations are transmitted to Congress where a policy-framework to evaluate and support adoption of proposals is virtually nonexistent. What’s more, vested interests, including some represented on these commissions, work to ensure that nothing comes of recommendations.

"Sixteen years after the Baliles Commission most problems facing the airline industry remain," the BTC continued. "We now run the risk of a more damaging repeat of this outcome though. If in 16 years, in 2025, the destination for aviation is essentially 1993 with the same unsolved problems that Governor Baliles wrestled with, then we will have a disaster on our hands."

The BTC urged Secretary LaHood to allocate the first two months of the committee’s efforts to debating and building consensus around transportation and air transportation public-policy objectives. "Importantly, we recommend that the process be transparent and open to the press, as the Baliles Commission was," the BTC said. "Let’s take advantage of the crisis gripping the airline industry to forge a future that truly strengthens U.S. travel and tourism as well as our economy, workforce, way of life and position in international aviation."

Included among the signers were ASTA, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, ARTA,  the Consumer Travel Alliance, the Travel Management Alliance, the Lowe's Companies, Inc. and scores of other groups concerned with the future of aviation.

Visit www.businesstravelcoalition.

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