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Regulation: Fasten Your Seat Belt

April 25, 2010

Can you remember the last time a large commercial aircraft crashed in the United States? The tragic crash that killed the President of Poland and numerous others brought this question to mind for me. Think hard. When was the last catastrophic aircraft crash in the United States, killing a hundred or more people, due to an aircraft equipment malfunction or pilot error? The answer is a very long time ago. There is a very good reason why.

Of course, I’m not talking about an incident like 911 or even regional or commuter aircraft. The nation did have a regional jet go down over New York last year due to icing. I’m thinking of a large air carrier, something like a 737 or larger. Admittedly, these things are both familiar and intensely interesting to me. What I truly realize is that the importance of aviation safety to the flying public is only a guarantee of a reliable business product.

The air carriers in the United States get a bad rap and in truth they often bring some of it upon themselves. There are hidden charges, far less food and other services that air travelers once expected without question. They (that is the airlines) are forced to fly as near as possible to capacity and delays are the systematic result. Because of this, the airlines are being “evermore creative” in turning over rocks to find ways to assess passengers as they pad the bottom line. It’s a tough business. Fuel costs are always a challenge while landing fees, training, and salaries compounded by medical and retirement plans are causing the airlines to inspect their somewhat thin profit margins with a fiduciary microscope regularly. Did I mention the aircraft maintenance? This is a staggering cost factor to be sure.

In as much as we might not like the service, or the delays, or our routing to our destination, we continue to fly. Why do we fly so often? Flying is faster than any other mode of transportation and it is incredibly safe. Even better, if you can plan ahead, it is often very reasonably priced.

There will always be exceptions (none in recent decades), but large commercial aircraft in the United States just generally don’t crash. We have the best trained, the most experienced crews, even the best and most advanced systems and airframes. There is another something that the nation also has that preserves the integrity of our aviation system while insulating the flying public in a blanket of consumer protection. That something is called regulation.

The Federal Aviation Administration has a safety strangle hold on our domestic airlines. They are inspected according to strict schedules randomly. Tires are changed on schedule, as are engines. The entire aircraft airframes are inspected regularly. Routine as well as on demand maintenance is carried out without exception. This is to say nothing of crew training, proficiency hours, rest requirements and down time. These are only a few examples of what keeps our large commercial aircraft from falling out of the sky. This regulation and oversight is mandated by none other than the United States government!

Pilots don’t do barrel rolls or other risky maneuvers which might compromise the aircraft or jeopardize the comfort and safety of the passengers. The airlines don’t dare casually skip required maintenance or required equipment changes. There is a chain of custody and records of responsibility. If such an offense took place and there was an incident , (like fatalities) somebody would go to jail, never mind being bad for business. In regulated industry there are consequences when appropriate.

Well we have seen some pretty spectacular maneuvers from many of the nation’s large corporations over the past couple of years (a lot longer actually). We have also had to survive a number of crashes and near catastrophes recently. If you will excuse the insensitive aviation metaphor, a lot of Americans got killed in business deals because they had no blanket of consumer protection to shield them.

So when you consider ‘healthcare’ reform, banking reform or when you engage in discussions about small government and the free-market system, you might want to give the aviation model some thought. If the banking and finance industry, the housing industry, Wall Street and the insurance industry have not caused you some very real consternation in recent years, you were not paying attention.

Without question our government allowed these business sectors to wreak havoc upon us. They did so over many decades by stripping away regulation. Even so, I think few Americans could have anticipated such callousness and greed across so many business sectors. Now that we have seen and understand the dark side of our domestic corporate culture, it is clear that a free market system left to its own devices is a recipe for disaster. Industry must breathe life into the social economy as the population breathes life into industry. Pure profiteering strips the social economy of life.

If you really just want to complain about the President, that is your right. But if you want what is best for the American economy and the American people, you might want to get smart on what reform and regulation actually mean, and how they apply as new or proposed reforms are brought forth. If the nation doesn’t see substantial reforms across many industry sectors soon, you had better fasten your seat belts. Without regulation, there will be more antics, more criminal and ethical wild rides for the helpless and unsuspecting consumer.

We know what large American corporations do, but large American airplanes don’t generally crash. Oh… nobody’s bailed out of any lately either.

It’s all a matter of regulation.

L. A. Walker

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