Thursday, January 7, 2010

Update: I don't really know what I'm talking about

A good friend and life long general aviation pilot called me out on my recent post: An industry of cost externalization. I may have written that the airlines are "festooned" with religious extremists. And while that may not be true:
As far as safety, on any given day, more than 87,000 flights are in the skies in the United States. Only 35 percent, or just over 30,000 of those flights are commercial carriers, like American. On an average day, air traffic controllers handle 28,537 commercial flights (major and regional airlines), 27,178 general aviation flights (private planes), 24,548 air taxi flights (planes for hire), 5,260 military flights and 2,148 air cargo flights (Federal Express, UPS, etc.). At any given moment, roughly 5,000 planes are in the skies above the United States. In one year, controllers handle an average of 64 million takeoffs and landings. Yes, taxes pay for that, one of the great beauties of living in America. The chances of being killed in an airplane are 1 in 11 million.
I also wrote that the airlines are oversubsidized, gluttonous, and propped up. My friend reminds me that:
Federal loans that are paid back are not subsidies, and taxes paid to the Air Traffic Control/TSA system mean I don't have to spend $3200 on a one way ticket from Dallas to Austin to see you. Or $6800 from Dallas to Boston. No one would travel by air.
I would argue that by artificially reducing those ticket costs we stifle other transportation industries, blah blah blah. But when I think about it, I really do love to fly. I love how fast it is, how exciting it is to be in the air and see above the clouds. I love the excitement of a landing. My most memorable experiences in the Navy were all in the air.

So, in my post, I began with the problem of commercial aviation's over bureaucratized security apparatus and concluded that we shouldn't fund air travel infrastructure. Of course that's the wrong conclusion. Of course pulling funding from aviation security is the wrong call too.

My real gripe is that lobbyists have killed trains in America and fear mongers and salesman have sold us a feel-good system that makes us take off our shoes and toss our sodas and knitting needles, but allows boxer bombs. What's actually needed is a thoughtful review and considered implementation of tailored security measures. That coupled with wise diplomacy and an omnivorous domestic transportation system. And apparently this blog could use more thoughtful review as well. Thanks Ed.