Please read the title in your best Ronald Reagan impression.
You may recall that I have previously written about the Air Traffic Controller strike in the 1980’s. During that period, Ronald Reagan fired about 11,000 Air Traffic Controllers who went on strike for better working conditions. At the time ATC operators had a high stress rate, high suicide rate and untenable hours. PATCO, the union for air traffic controllers, actually backed Republican Ronald Reagan for President in 1980 rather than Democrat Jimmy Carter. Reagan repaid that commitment by busting the union. To this day, many aviators refuse to refer to the airport in Washington DC as Reagan National. They use the the old term Washington National Airport.
History is repeating itself as the Federal Aviation Administration is being threatened with a federal shutdown as lawmakers are leaving town without extending funding for the agency. Over 4,000 FAA employees are being furloughed as a result. Additionally, the taxes on tickets that are normally collected to fund the FAA are being eaten up by the airlines. Not to mention over 200 construction jobs on runways and airport facilities have been halted as well.
Republican John Mica (R-FL) has been instrumental in holding the agency hostage. President Obama has called the stalemate “another Washington-inflicted wound on America” while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans were trying to force Democrats to accept policy concessions they would be unable to enact through normal legislative procedures.
Democrats tried repeatedly over the past two weeks to pass a bill extending the FAA’s operating authority without the subsidy cuts, but were blocked by Republican senators each time.
“Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety. We should not let ideology interfere with making sure that Americans’ air travel runs as smoothly and safely as possible.”
The FAA has not been funded long-term since 2007. This is just another means of holding yet another federal function hostage. Non-pilots may not appreciate the role of the FAA. Aviation is not one of the things that fares well without regulation. In fact, aviation is the one industry that benefits with broad-scale regulation. Everyone in aviation speaks the same language (English), the rules governing flying and pilot certification are the same anywhere in the world, and the margin of error is quite low. Certainly accidents happen but with less frequency. The administration can be slow to change policies (I’m talking to you, ATC controller who sent that Northwest flight across the path of my United flight out of Denver close enough that I could read the tail numbers).
Politicians who think this is just another means to defund a governmental agency do not understand the the risk that they are putting the airlines in. Under the auspices of fiscal belt-tightening they are actually putting citizens who travel by air in danger. This isn’t a game. The FAA exists for a reason and interfering with it is opening a Pandora’s box of problems that could end badly. Do we really want to go there?
- Washington remains torn on FAA shutdown (money.cnn.com)
- FAA Funding Deadlock Idles Construction From New York to Vegas (businessweek.com)
- FAA standoff idles state workers, projects (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Congress reaches compromise to end FAA dispute (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Op-Ed Contributor: The Strike That Busted Unions (nytimes.com)