Airport Policy and Security News #121

Airport Policy News

Airport Policy and Security News #121

Long shutdown of Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport raises disturbing questions about airport vulnerability.

In this issue:

Atlanta Shutdown Raises Economic and Security Questions

December’s unprecedented 11-hour shutdown of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport raises disturbing questions about airport vulnerability. As we learned soon after the incident, the shutdown was caused by a power surge that knocked out both primary and backup electricity, leaving the entire airport powerless. Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers said the design of that system “is typical of how major power networks operate”—but that is intolerable at critical facilities such as airports, hospitals, and public safety dispatch centers. A basic principle of good system design is redundancy—if one system fails, a backup takes over.

A Wall Street Journal article on this fiasco (Dec. 19, 2017) quoted a vice president of TSi Power saying that a separate backup switch big enough for a facility such as ATL would cost “several million dollars.” Let’s compare that figure with an estimate of the economic harm caused by the shut-down.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Aviation Daily (Jan. 2, 2018) that the airline estimates the shutdown cost it $25-50 million. That’s a very low-ball estimate. Delta’s 2016 IT system failure at ATL led to 2,300 cancelled flights and an estimated $150 million loss. Since DL cancelled 1,400 flights this time, the December loss would be more like $91 million. And that’s just Delta, which handles 73% of ATL’s passengers. Adding the other 27% would bring just the airlines’ loss to around $125 million.

Then there’s the economic harm to the passengers, most of whom had to wait for several days to get a replacement flight—or to cancel their trip altogether. If the DL flights averaged only 100 passengers each (including RJs), that would be 140,000 passengers. If each one’s out-of-pocket cost averaged $200, that’s $28 million in DL passenger losses; for all ATL passengers, the total would be $38 million. So the total of airline and passenger losses would be around $163 million. That compares with “several million dollars” for a redundant backup switch. That expenditure would be a rounding error in ATL’s $500 million operating budget.

Some heads should roll over this—but whose? For one thing, the FAA is the airport safety regulator, and one of its requirements is that the airport has a backup emergency electricity plan approved by the agency. Who approved ATL’s single-point-failure electricity supply? And who, in the ATL management, was asleep at the switch for this disaster in waiting? And given how much clout anchor tenant Delta is known to have at the world’s busiest airport, why weren’t DL’s facility and operations people aware of this extreme vulnerability?

By the way, the Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the ATL electrical system design is not necessarily “typical.” Dallas/Ft. Worth International is supplied by two separate power lines, one entering from the north and the other from the south. And either one can power the entire airport if one fails.

I’ve left for last the dire security implications of this fiasco, ably pointed out by Clive Irving of Conde Nast Traveler the day after the blackout. A few choice lines from his DailyBeast post:

“Just imagine this as a classic plan for phase one of a terrorist attack: Render the target blind. None of the defenses are operational. Thousands of people are trapped in restricted spaces without directions about how they can find an exit. As chaos spreads, nobody knows whom to turn to for information. The communications blackout is as complete as the power blackout. Given this situation, a small band of suicide bombers could roam freely and commit mayhem and massacre on an unprecedented scale.”

That TSA has apparently not looked into this possible single-point vulnerability of America’s airports speaks volumes about this country’s fragmented approach to airport security (TSA in charge of passenger and baggage screening, and the airport in charge of everything else.)

Both FAA and TSA have work to do on this problem. And so do airports and airlines.

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Changes Needed to Meet PreCheck Goals

Over the last two years, TSA’s PreCheck trusted-traveler program has added 2.2 million people, bringing its total enrollment to 5.7 million. That’s good, but the program’s potential is much larger. In 2015 the agency set an ambitious goal of expanding PreCheck to 25 million air travelers by 2019, but several serious problems have called that goal into question.

In a December report, the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) focuses on one of those problems (“TSA’s Adjudication Resources Are Inadequate to Meet TSA PreCheck Enrollment Goals,” OIG 18-27, Dec. 5, 2017). As TSA ramped up marketing the program to air travelers and expanding the enrollment centers operated by its contractor (Morpho) in 2016, applications surged to unprecedented levels. But TSA’s internal processing was unable to cope with the huge influx.

As the OIG report explains, about 26% of all PreCheck applications are not cleared by a set of automated background checks; that subset has to be manually reviewed by TSA’s Adjudication Center. That turned out to be a major bottleneck, for two reasons. First, the work is apparently boring, so recruitment is difficult and there is high staff turnover. When the marketing campaign ramped up in May 2016, 12 of the 27 staff positions were vacant. TSA tried to recruit more full-time staff, and when that proved difficult, obtained fill-in “detailees” from elsewhere in TSA and DHS, but this failed to solve the problem. Instead of beginning manual review within the target of five workdays from receipt, the average delay soared to 50 workdays by September 2016.

The other problem is a cumbersome information processing system that requires staffers to manually extract thousands of case numbers from the vetting system, enter them into spreadsheets, and email those to the adjudicators; the latter must manually extract case numbers from the spreadsheets and enter them in a different system to review the vetting results and begin the adjudication process. (I’m not making this up!)

The OIG report, therefore, made two obvious recommendations, both of which TSA has agreed to implement:

  1. Expand the adjudication workforce of full-time employees and give them better tools to work with;
  2. Replace the manual data input and transfer by moving it to an existing automation platform called Technology Infrastructure Modernization.

TSA has taken steps to implement both recommendations, but OIG considers them both still open until TSA submits data documenting that the problems have been solved.

The OIG report mentions in passing (p. 4) that TSA “had planned to expand the number of [PreCheck] enrollment service providers to four by the second quarter of FY 2017, but TSA withdrew its Request for Proposals in October 2016.” In hindsight, had those additional enrollment providers gotten under way in mid-2017, the expanded number of applications would have made the processing problems even worse.

But as noted in the previous issue of this newsletter, a bill approved last fall by the Senate Commerce Committee (the TSA Modernization Act) would require TSA to contract with four private-sector entities to market and facilitate enrollment in PreCheck. It also sets a goal of 15 million members by FY 2020. Importantly, it would permit enrollment without the need for collecting fingerprints from applicants, if contractors can demonstrate to TSA that vetting based on other means will provide equivalent security. If that works, it could make enrollment far less of a hassle than it is now, making the 15 million goal more attainable.

A coalition of eight travel industry groups, including the Global Business Travel Association and the U.S. Travel Association has sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D, NY) urging passage of the measure, but it is strongly opposed by the existing monopoly provider, Morpho.

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Clearing the Air on a PFC Increase

The perennial battle between airports and airlines over an increase in the local airport self-help user fee (Passenger Facility Charge) is again at a fever pitch. The Senate’s 2018 transportation appropriations bill provides for an increase in the federal cap, which is currently the same $4.50 that has been in effect since 2000. The Senate bill would increase the cap to a maximum of $8.50, but applicable only to the airport of origin, not to any connecting airports. In exchange for this potential new revenue, the bill also calls for large hubs (which could raise the most revenue from such an increase) to forego all “entitlement” funding from the federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP).

As I see it, this would be a welcome step toward allowing airports to become self-supporting, reducing their dependence on (often-politicized) federal airport grants. A similar, bipartisan, bill was put forth earlier this year in the House, by the interesting duo of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D, OR) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R, KY). Their bill, which never came to a vote, would have eliminated the federal cap altogether while eliminating all AIP grants for large hubs.

The airlines continue bamboozling fiscal conservatives into opposing such PFC measures by referring to them as “federal tax increases.” And while nearly all center-right think tanks support airport self-help via local PFCs, two conservative taxpayer groups—Americans for Tax Reform and National Taxpayers Union—continue to sing from the airlines’ hymnal.

One airline argument is that a PFC increase, by increasing the cost of an airline trip, would reduce demand for such trips (basic price elasticity). Testimony posted on the Airlines for America (A4A) website states that “increasing the PFC to $8 or higher would cost [air travelers] in excess of $2.5 billion annually,” decreasing the likelihood of airline trips. Yet this ignores the fact that airlines have been ramping up various passenger fees that are not included in the ticket price because they are nominally optional—but are paid by large numbers of passengers. Aviation reporter Susan Carey pointed out in a Wall Street Journal news article last month that airline fees for checked luggage and ticket changes alone raised more than $7 billion for airlines in 2016, dwarfing the impact of a PFC increase. Yet airline travel is booming.

Another airline argument is that airports already have plenty of money to spend on terminal and runway expansion. When countered by airport numbers showing that construction plans exceed current resources, A4A points out that there is a large unobligated balance in the federal Airport & Airways Trust Fund that could be used to expand AIP grants. The current FAA budget puts the unobligated balance at around $5 billion—but there is zero chance that the Office of Management & Budget would allow FAA to request using some or all of that balance for a larger Airport Improvement Program, because of OMB’s focus on holding down federal spending.

A new complication was dropped into this debate in early December when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) argued that the Senate bill’s PFC cap increase would lead to federal revenue losses of $944 million over the next decade. Say what? The convoluted logic goes as follows (as explicated by Eno Transportation Weekly‘s Jeff Davis): Airports will issue new revenue bonds backed by the increased annual PFC revenues. Like most airport bonds, those bonds will be tax-exempt, and therefore the bond buyers will have less taxable income than if they had bought an equivalent amount of taxable bonds instead. Hence, the federal loss of tax revenue compared with the no-PFC-increase status quo.

Logically, the average of $94 million of annual lost revenue is a rounding error in the massive federal budget. In addition, the volume of tax-exempt bonds fluctuates year by year far more than the small increase likely to come about if all airports increase their PFCs by the maximum allowed and use all the revenue to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds, as assumed by CBO.

Alas, this kind of CBO/JCT reasoning is taken seriously in Congress, triggering application of a federal PAYGO provision that requires legislation leading to increased deficits to be offset in the budget—unless waived by 60 votes in the Senate. Since there is bipartisan support for increased airport infrastructure investment, Davis speculates that if the Senate PFC provision is adopted in the final transportation appropriations bill, there’s a decent chance of a 60-vote waiver. But this kind of nonsense should make larger airports even more determined to regain full control of their funding.

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Passengers Faring Well, Despite Airline Mergers

In the wake of mergers that reduced the “major” U.S. air carriers to just four—American, Delta, Southwest, and United—there were many predictions that passengers would be the losers. The main fears were that air fares would be increased and that air service at medium and small hubs would be cut back.

The Eno Center for Transportation published good news on this subject on November 29th. In the sixth of a series of briefs called Aviation Insights, Eno answered the question: “Where are airline passengers getting the best service?” The data were prefaced by a graph from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, which shows that for the airline industry, that index has increased from 70.3 in 1994 to 76.8 in 2016 and is now slightly higher than the 75.0 average for all industry sectors.

In its new research, Eno ranked 47 metro areas with large and medium hub airports. Using mostly federal data sources, the researchers created a FlyScore for each metro area, based on four factors (each given the same weight): number of direct destinations, total number of domestic flights, extent of competition, and average one-way fare level. Chicago emerged as number 1, with a FlyScore of 94 out of a possible 100, with Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York in the next four places. Of the top five, all but Denver have multiple airports, which facilitates competition and lower fares. Interestingly, there is no visible correlation between an airport being a “fortress hub” and its FlyScore—both Atlanta and Charlotte score in the top 10, despite being the only airport in their respective metro areas and being a fortress hub (for Delta and American, respectively).

It’s possible to quibble with aspects of the methodology. Baltimore (ranked 34th), San Jose (40th), and Ontario/Riverside (47th) each scored relatively poorly, but each is functionally part of a larger metro area and provides a competitive alternative to its other airports. That is a factor in the high scores of Chicago, New York, Los Angeles Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, and Miami. Also, the scoring reflects only domestic air service, which makes the comparison of large and medium airports fairer, but understates the benefits of a metro area having extensive international service.

I also find it encouraging that industry analysts expect favorable air-fare trends to continue. Bloomberg’s George Ferguson in late November released air fare trend forecasts for 2018, expecting downward air fares in domestic, trans-Atlantic, and trans-Pacific markets, with only Latin America showing increases. The major reason for the downward trends is increasing competition.

In the United States, competition is increasing from Alaska, Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit, all of which are buying more planes and increasing service. Fast-growing Frontier in November ordered an additional 124 Airbus A320neo planes and projects a tripling of size over the next decade. In the next six months, it says it will add 30% more destinations to the 80 it already serves in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. Media focus only on the four “big airlines” doesn’t reflect the growing competition in the air.

International air travel is also being affected by increasing competition—with relatively new low-cost, long-haul carriers such as Norwegian and Wow offering unprecedented no-frills low fares. While these carriers do serve traditional gateways such as Los Angeles and New York, they are also providing trans-Atlantic nonstop flights from airports such as Austin, Cincinnati, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Orlando, Pittsburgh, and Reno. Since 2012, according to U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the airports showing the most international traffic growth are all from mid-size metro areas. At an aviation conference last August, Don Casey, Senior VP for Revenue Management at American Airlines, said that trans-Atlantic low-cost carriers have had a “material” effect on the fares charged by legacy carriers.

All of this is good news for U.S. air travelers and the airports that serve them.

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Will 3-D Scanners Fix TSA’s Checkpoint Failures?

As I reported last issue, the DHS Office of Inspector General in September released a one-paragraph unclassified summary of its latest red-team effort to test the accuracy of TSA checkpoint screening. No figures have been released, but in the wake of several classified briefings to relevant congressional committees since then, the key number was leaked: screening failures occurred about 80% of the time in 2017 red-team testing, only marginally better than the 95% failure rate from OIG’s 2015 tests.

While better screener training may help, the best bet at this point seems to be replacing conventional two-dimensional X-ray machines with 3-D computerized tomography (CT) scanners, comparable to the larger CT scanners now used in nearly all checked baggage screening. CT scanners are faster and more-accurate than X-rays, and because they can assess the density and chemical composition of items in luggage, they may make it feasible for passengers to leave liquids and electronics in their carry-on bags at checkpoints.

CT scanners from several manufacturers are in use at a number of major European airports, and TSA and several airlines have live testing under way at a handful of U.S. airports. At a late-November hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee, the chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul (R, TX), pushed for TSA to begin installing CT scanners at checkpoints nationwide. DHS Acting Assistant Secretary Elaine Duke gave two reasons for this not being feasible at this point. First, she said, the algorithms needed for the machines to identify prohibited items are still being developed. That sounds questionable, given the CT scanners in routine use at Amsterdam Schiphol, Singapore Changi, and other airports in Europe, Australia, and even South Africa.

Duke’s second reason was cost. At around $300,000 apiece, CT scanners are about 50% more expensive than X-ray scanners. Said Duke, “We do not have the funding to deploy at every airport . . . to buy for every airport would require much more than a reprogramming [of existing TSA funds].” But that is something Congress could fix. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D, MS), the committee’s Ranking Member, said that the $1.28 billion a year from airline ticket security fees that now goes to the general fund for deficit reduction could—and should—be used for aviation security. “This money could be used to invest in new security technology and a fully staffed and effectively trained workforce.”

The numbers support Thompson’s proposal. TSA has about 2,200 screening lanes at U.S. airports. At $300K apiece, it would cost about $660 million to equip every single one with a CT scanner to replace its X-ray scanner. That’s about half the annual take of the amount from the security fee used for deficit reduction, making it an onerous tax on air travelers, instead of an actual user fee to give travelers better security. Congress should enact this change in 2018, and TSA should issue RFPs to the five current producers of checkpoint CT scanners.

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The Economist on Airport Slots

In reporting on the annual European Slot Conference, held in early November in Madrid, the reporter for The Economist pulled back the rug and showed what was beneath it. The headline in the print edition was “Airport Heist,” while the online version said it more gently: “The rules on allocating take-off and landing slots favor incumbents.”

For decades, airline and airport representatives have gathered to coordinate flight schedules for the coming year. As the reporter put it, “Instead of letting airports decide who would use their runways and when, the system was designed to have schedules hammered out by committees of airlines.” But by the 1960s, European airports started reaching capacity, so the committees’ role changed to that of deciding who gets the best slots. Since the 1970s, this is mostly done following the International Air Transport Association’s grandly named “Worldwide Slot Guidelines.” They start from the premise that airlines, most of which got their slots at no charge decades ago, somehow own them, though they were actually created by airports’ decisions to invest in runway and terminal capacity.

Over time, the European Union has tried to impose rules easing the resulting near freeze-out of non-legacy airlines. One aspect is a use-if-or-lose-it rule requiring a slot-holder to use each slot at least 80% of the time or it will be re-allocated to another airline. And supposedly, if an airline stops using a set of slots (change of business focus, bankruptcy, etc.), the slot guidelines provide that half the freed-up slots be allocated to new-entrant carriers. But these rules are easy for incumbents to fiddle, as the article demonstrates. One way to meet the 80% rule is to fill in the schedule with commuter planes carrying few passengers; another is to operate “ghost” flights that produce little or no revenue but keep the slot occupied.

Some economists favor auctioning off unused slots, but in some countries airlines are able to trade or sell slots to one another, but usually not to low-cost carriers. That still protects the incumbents, as a group, from serious competition.

In two recent cases, incumbent carriers have taken advantage of airline bankruptcies—Monarch Airlines in London and Air Berlin in Germany. International Airlines Group (parent of British Airways), managed to buy all Monarch’s slots at London Gatwick Airport, with the proceeds going to help pay off Monarch’s creditors. Other airlines were apparently not given an opportunity to bid. And Air Berlin’s large slot-holdings at Berlin’s Tegel Airport were quickly bought by EasyJet, to the dismay of competitor Ryanair, which said it is prepared to invest up to $1 billion on them.

So it’s hard to disagree with the assessment of Britain’s competition office that the slot system “creates rigid incumbent slot holdings,” raising barriers to entry for newer airlines. As aviation consultant Andrew Charlton puts it, the IATA slot guidelines are “a naked attempt to distort the market.”

Fortunately, The Economist does suggest a more competition-friendly alternative. It quotes economist Nicole Adler of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who favors congestion pricing of runways. The magazine also notes that London Gatwick uses a version of such pricing, which has helped this single-runway airport cope with a 50% increase in passenger volume since 2010. The pricing “has encouraged airlines to make fuller use of their slots and to release underused ones to new entrants.”

As I’ve written previously, runway pricing is far better for passengers than the slot system. Governments that want robust airline competition should encourage runway pricing, not the “worldwide” slot system.

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News Notes

Macquarie Selected for Westchester County Airport Lease. A bipartisan task force of elected officials in mid-November selected the proposal submitted by Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation over two competing proposals for a 40-year P3 lease of the airport. If the deal is ratified by the county legislature, the county would receive $595 million in lease payments during those years, and the company would invest $550 million in capital improvements to the airport. Neither the terminal nor the runways could be enlarged under the terms the county required be included.

DHS Inspector General Hits TSA Air Marshal Program. In mid-November, DHS I.G. John Roth told a congressional hearing that an unspecified portion of the Federal Air Marshal (FAM) program could be discontinued with no real loss of security. The I.G.’s assessment follows a recent GAO report that found TSA has no real way to assess the effectiveness of the FAM program.

San Diego Picks Aviation Facilities Co. for Cargo P3 Project. The San Diego Regional Airport Authority has selected Aviation Facilities Company (AFCO) as the best of the three finalists to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain the new Cargo Facilities project. It will include a 100,000 sq. ft. cargo processing and warehouse facility and associated infrastructure.

New Runway Capacity for London. The U.K. Department for Transport last fall announced that its consultation on airport-expansion policy would be open for submissions until December 19th, after which the Department will present its recommendations to Parliament for a vote sometime during the first half of the year. The expectation is that the plan will be for a third runway at Heathrow, which was the government’s choice in 2016. However, competing Gatwick Airport in November pointed to its having exceeded the 45 million passenger mark in 2017—which government studies had not expected to occur until 2030. Thus, Gatwick continues to argue for permission to add a second runway.

Will Atlanta Get a Second Airport? A defense bill passed by the House in November and expected to pass the Senate would re-designate Dobbins Air Reserve Base as a joint-use airport. This would allow non-military uses of the airport for the first time in decades. The new designation would clearly allow civilian cargo flights, but why not passenger flights as well? Passenger airline service is common at a number of other joint-use airports, including Albuquerque and Charlotte. Dobbins is located in Marietta, in suburban Cobb County, northwest of Atlanta.

Finally, a Rail Link to Newark Airport. After decades of talk by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, it now appears likely that the agency will proceed with a long-sought extension of its PATH commuter train line to Newark International Airport. The 2.4-mile extension is estimated to cost $1.7 billion and was recently included in the Port Authority’s $32 billion, 10-year capital plan, with a targeted completion date of 2026. The tentative plan calls for $1 billion of the cost to come from PA funds, and the other $700 million from grants of some sort.

Gary Airport to Build Customs Facility. Privately managed Gary Chicago International Airport has hired a construction management firm to manage the bidding process and construction of a Customs & Border Protection facility, to be built in an unused building adjacent to the airport fire/rescue station. The airport does have some international departures, but the return flights must land at another airport with customs facilities.

Another Major Expansion for Denver International. Hard on the heels of its $1.8 billion P3 project to expand the central terminal, DIA has announced plans to add 39 gates (a 50% expansion) spread across its three concourses, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion. Strong growth in flights and the addition of new airlines are the factors leading to the gate expansion project. The project will have to win the approval of the Denver city council in order to go forward

Changes in P3 Concessionaires in Brazil. Several of the companies that hold portions of the concessions to major Brazilian airports are in financial trouble, so national airport regulator ANAC has encouraged buyouts of their shares by outside firms. In these original airport P3 concessions, government airport company Infraero holds 49% and investor-owned companies hold 51%. In the case of Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International (Brazil’s busiest), Vinci Concessions is buying out troubled investors Invepar and OAS; joining Vinci is Mubadala Development Company from Abu Dabi. And for Rio de Janeiro Airport (Brazil’s second largest), China’s HNA Infrastructure and Singapore’s Changi Airport Group are replacing financially troubled Odebrecht in the P3 concession.

Pension Fund Sells Stakes in Two U.K. Airports. Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, a prominent global infrastructure investor, is selling part of its interest in Birmingham and Bristol Airports. Two Australian pension funds are the buyers—T Corp from New South Wales and Sunsuper Superannuation Fund. OTTP is selling 30% of its 100% holding in Bristol Airport and 14.4% of its shareholding in Birmingham (in which local governments and the Employees Share Trust retain 51.75%).

Japan Plans to Privatize Hiroshima Airport. The next step in Japan’s airport privatization program will be Hiroshima Airport, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism. The plan is for a 30-year P3 concession, expected to start in 2021.This will follow the privatization that is already under way for Fukuoka Airport, for which three pre-qualified bids have already been received. Last year Japan privatized the airports of Kobe and Takamatsu, which brought the total to six—and counting.

Clarification re GAO Report on Airport Privatization. Last issue’s story on airport privatization referred to a 2015 GAO study on the subject (GAO-15-42) but mis-stated a key point. The GAO itself did not “recommend” that the airline veto power over privatization deals under the federal pilot program be reduced or eliminated. GAO’s report compiled and reported recommendations by various aviation stakeholders who made recommendations on how to make the pilot program more attractive. It was those stakeholders—not GAO—that made the recommendation. I’m happy to set the record straight on this.

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Quotable Quotes

“It is the same story on both the airline and aerospace sides: Players complain tactically when they feel disadvantaged, but there is no true multilateral discourse on the matter. Boeing is happy to accept tax breaks while asserting that a Canadian province cannot invest in a particular company. Delta takes issue with subsidies for Etihad Airways, but readily buys a stake in majority-government-owned China Eastern Airlines. The only difference between the two is that one is a competitor and the other is a strategic partner. Both are, by Delta’s own definition, highly subsidized.”
—Jens Flottau, “No Solution: Boeing-Bombardier Case Shows the Aerospace Industry Needs Common Standards on Government Support,” Aviation Week, October 2-15, 2017

“If congestion charges truly reflect the scarcity value of a runway at a crowded airport, fares could rise. Airlines’ share prices would certainly fall. The case for change is nonetheless clear. Frequent flyers are among the world’s richest people; the global airline industry has just had its three most profitable years ever; the market share of the big three airline alliances is rising. The aviation industry should pay for the infrastructure it uses; not make hay from it.”
—Editorial, “Winning the Slottery,” The Economist, November 18, 2017

“Our [book] has a full model of the [aviation] security system, mainly constructed by my co-author, a civil engineer and risk analyst at the University of Newcastle in Australia. It describes the effectiveness, risk reduction, and cost of each layer of security (including a few TSA doesn’t include), from policing and intelligence to checkpoint passenger screening to armed pilots on the flight deck. It is also fully transparent and can be varied and sized-up with just a hand calculator. Put into action, the model concludes that it is entirely possible to attain the same degree of safety at far lower cost by shifting expenditures from measures that provide little security at high cost to ones that provide more security at lower cost. One modest proposal, for example, would increase security while saving both taxpayers and the airlines hundreds of millions of dollars every year.”
—John Mueller, “Are We Safe Enough?” Cato at Liberty, October 25, 2017

“I have repeatedly said that the Federal Air Marshal (FAM) program, the way it has been run since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, is a waste of taxpayer monies. The FAM program should be drastically reduced to running [only] very special missions, and their primary thrust should be to run the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program. Simply requiring a minimum of at least one FFDO on each US airliner under the Minimum Equipment List (MEL) program would dramatically improve the security of U.S. commercial aviation. FAMs would then run the FFDO program and any very special missions—and the cost of the resulting system would be less than a third of the current FAM program.”
—Billie H. Vincent, former Director, FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security, email to Robert Poole (Dec. 7, 2017), used by permission

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Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation.