Aviation Policy News: Aviation Industry Seeks Bailouts Due to COVID-19 Impacts
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Aviation Policy Newsletter

Aviation Policy News: Aviation Industry Seeks Bailouts Due to COVID-19 Impacts

The Trump administration has proposed a $50 billion bailout of the airlines during the coronavirus pandemic.

 In this issue:

Aviation and COVID-19: Airline Bailouts?

Commercial aviation worldwide is being hit hard by governmental and public reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the reduction in air travel is due to people putting off travel, to avoid greater exposure to the virus. But part is also due to governmental mandates, such as the U.S. government banning travel to this country by residents of a growing number of other countries. Does this call for financial assistance to the airlines?

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government temporarily shut down air travel and only gradually allowed its resumption as beefed-up security measures were put into place. To compensate airlines for the government-caused air travel shut-down, Congress approved what some called a “bailout” of U.S. airlines: $5 billion in cash and $10 billion in loan guarantees. While I am staunchly opposed to government bailouts of struggling companies or industries, I made an exception for the post-9-11 airline compensation (though one could quibble about the amount involved).

The White House initially announced that it might temporarily allow the airlines to keep the 7.5 percent ticket tax and the $4.50 per segment Passenger Facility Fee (PFC). These are two very different proposals and need to be considered separately.

The federal ticket tax is the funding source for the Airports and Airways Trust Fund (AATF). Money from the AATF covers most of FAA’s annual budget, including the $3 billion per year Airport Improvement Program of grants for airports. The White House proposal would temporarily suspend collection of those taxes. Past experiences of periods when the authority to collect those taxes lapsed showed that airlines did not reduce their fares by the amount of the suspended tax, and that is what they are virtually certain to do if these taxes are suspended.

Some observers have expressed concern about potential harm to FAA programs if the taxes were suspended, but that is not likely, for two reasons. First, with passenger volume significantly reduced, the amount of taxes that would be collected over the next several months is not that great. Second, the Trust Fund has a balance of more than $17 billion, which could cover a full year of FAA’s budget, which runs around $17 billion per year, about 90 percent of which comes from the Trust Fund.

The PFC is an entirely different matter. First, it is not a federal tax; it is a local airport user fee. Its only connection to the federal budget is that Congress imposes a ceiling on how large the PFC can be; it cannot exceed $4.50 per flight segment—a price cap that has not been increased for two decades. Second, most of the proceeds from various airports’ PFCs are legally committed to debt service on long-term revenue bonds that are paying for improved terminal facilities at the airports in question. Not allowing PFCs to be collected would further harm airport finances during a period when—like airlines—their passenger numbers are far below normal.

But as the coronavirus pandemic deepens, a feeding frenzy has broken out in Washington. First, Airlines for America has upped the ante, requesting $58 billion in grants and loan guarantees, and airports responded by asking for $10 billion. Today’s stimulus outline from the Trump administration includes $50 billion in loans to airlines. But as noted, aviation is far from the only sector affected by the anti-coronavirus measures. What about bars, restaurants, cruise ship lines, movie theaters, performing arts centers, and countless other businesses whose customers are staying home as the least-bad way to protect themselves?

There are no easy answers for an economy-wide solution, but it’s clear that the federal government will do something. One sensible suggestion appeared as the lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal of March 17, “Financing an Economic Shutdown.”

The ideas in that piece are too complex to summarize here, but the concepts in it strike me as far less bad than selective bailouts driven by political clout.

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Aviation and COVID-19: Rethinking Airport Slots

On March 11, the FAA waived a rule that requires airlines at slot-controlled airports to use their slots at least 80 percent of the time—or risk losing them. The European Commission is introducing a similar policy waiving its use-it-or-lose-it slots policy at airports in the European Union.

In the United States, formal slot rules apply to only three airports: Kennedy (JFK), LaGuardia (LGA), and Reagan National (DCA). But FAA oversight of scheduling that is just short of a formal slots system applies to four others: Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles International (LAX), Newark Liberty (EWR), and San Francisco International (SFO). A much large number of European airports have formal slot rules and the 80 percent use-it-or-lose-it policy.

Certainly in the short-term, waiving this rule makes sense. There have been many reports of some airlines flying certain routes with few or no passengers, just to hold onto their slots. And well before the crisis, it was widely known that some airlines operate money-losing routes just to hold onto certain slots. The value to a fortress hub carrier of keeping out the riff-raff that would undercut their high fares, if only they could gain some slots, makes such a policy economically rational for such carriers, given the current regime for managing scarce capacity.

But, seriously, how long are we going to let this kind of absurdity continue? In his latest Forbes.com column, my friend Andrew Charlton suggests that the “Coronavirus Crisis Is an Opportunity to Remake the Aviation Industry.” Institutions that need rethinking, he says, include the fragmented and out-of-date air traffic control system, archaic airline ownership and control rules, and yes, airport slots. On the latter, he decries rules that “allow 20 percent of an extremely expensive and rare asset to go to waste.”

For nearly 15 years I have been pointing out the arbitrariness, unfairness, and economic waste of dealing with limited airport capacity by means of rationing.  A sensible system of variable runway pricing could allow the full utilization of airport capacity, while raising additional funding for physical and technological capacity enhancements.

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ADS-B’s Checkered Progress in Europe

While Australia, Canada, and the United States have already achieved widespread equipage of airliners, business jets, and a large fraction of general aviation aircraft with ADS-B/Out, Europe lags considerably behind in some respects. But in one area, it is breaking new ground with ADS-B.

The European Union did not set out to make ADS-B the primary future surveillance method, as FAA did with NextGen, prior to appreciating the vulnerability of the GPS signals on which ADS-B depends. So the EU set later equipage deadlines that apply only to portions of the aircraft population. The original 2011 rule set an equipage deadline of January 2015 (five years sooner than the U.S. deadline). But in the face of resistance from aircraft operators, that was amended twice, with the current deadline of June 7, 2020. And there is now talk of extending that further to 2023.

And the equipage mandate does not apply to all aircraft in Europe. The only ones required to do so are those with a maximum takeoff weight of more than 12,556 pounds or with a maximum cruise speed exceeding 250 kt. So unless they decide to equip on their own, lighter and slower planes will not be visible to ADS-B in airspace with ADS-B ground stations. Hence, there is less likelihood of significant retirement of legacy surveillance systems in Europe, compared with the USA. Current FAA plans call for reducing the number of VORs to a “minimum operational network,” and shutting down radars at 32 sites by 2025, per an article in the Winter 2019 issue of The Journal of Air Traffic Control.

On the other hand, Europe’s fragmented air traffic control system, with far more en-route centers than are needed, also has far more radars than needed, even if ADS-B were not in the picture. Tests conducted jointly by the air navigation service provider (ANSP) of Germany (DFS), FAA, and Eurocontrol identified 40 civilian and military radars in the vicinity of Frankfurt. Europe also has a growing number of multilateration (MLAT) systems which can serve as another alternative to radar. Holgar Neufeldt of Thales told Aviation Week’s Bill Carey that some ANSPs plan to not replace some aging radars but to instead install ADS-B ground stations on those sites.

One area where Europe is moving ahead of the United States is making use of space-based ADS-B. Eurocontrol recently signed a 10-year contract with Aireon to help the agency manage traffic flows across Europe and in adjacent oceanic regions. The space-based ADS-B data will be fed into the Eurocontrol Network Manager’s enhanced tactical flow management system (ETFMS), which is used to coordinate traffic flows across Europe. And because the signals include air traffic in oceanic regions approaching Europe, ETFMS will be able to adjust incoming traffic flows long before they reach European borders. Eurocontrol Director General Eamonn Brennan told Aviation Daily that, “Full integration of Aireon space-based ADS-B data will allow us to be more accurate in our trajectory predictions and ensure higher levels of safety, predictability, and efficiency in our flow management operations.”

Nav Canada is already using space-based ADS-B in domestic airspace to supplement its conventional radar surveillance, and to add surveillance in remote northern areas where there is no radar or ADS-B ground stations. India’s and Italy’s ANSPs also plan some use of space-based ADS-B in portions of their territory, in addition to their main use in the oceanic flight information regions they are responsible for.

Even though FAA has an extensive network of ADS-B ground stations, they do not cover every square mile of remote and mountainous areas. So I would not be surprised if FAA eventually signs up with Aireon for terrestrial as well as oceanic service.

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DOT Proposes Reforms to Aviation Consumer Protection Authority
By Marc Scribner

In 1978, Congress enacted the Airline Deregulation Act, laying the basis for a greatly expanded, more competitive, and lower-priced airline industry. But in recent years, criticism has mounted over allegations that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has increasingly misused its authority to protect consumers from unfair or deceptive practices to subvert airline deregulation. Recent DOT rulemakings on airfare advertising, ticket refundability, and tarmac delays have been cited by critics as examples of a backdoor re-regulatory trend at DOT.

At the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Legal Symposium in New York on Feb. 20, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced that DOT will propose a rule to update policies and procedure for its Aviation Consumer Protection Authority, the term it uses for its statutory authority (under Section 41712 of Title 49 of the U.S. Code) to police unfair or deceptive practices.

This proposal would align DOT’s authority with a similar authority long held by the Federal Trade Commission, improving transparency and accountability for regulated entities, consumers, and regulators alike. It would also make it more difficult for regulators to use a nebulous statutory authority as a chisel to chip away at the successful reforms that eliminated most economic regulation of air carriers.

What is now known as the Aviation Consumer Protection Authority long predates the department itself. The authority was created as Section 411 of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 and was originally and exclusively wielded by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Section 411 was modeled on the “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” language included months before in the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1938, which covered most other commercial contexts. The authority was soon transferred to the new Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) in 1940, which was created by merging the Civil Aeronautics Authority and the Air Safety Board. In 1952, Congress expanded Section 411 to cover not only air transportation itself, but the sale of air transportation. For the next three decades, the enforcement against unfair or deceptive practices in the airline and ticket agent businesses by the Civil Aeronautics Board remained the same.

When Congress passed the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, it eliminated most economic regulation in the aviation sector and wound down the CAB. When the CAB was terminated in 1985, Section 411 authority was transferred to DOT’s Office of the Secretary. In 1994, Congress reorganized the Transportation Code, and Section 411 was recodified as Section 41712. While reorganizing the Transportation Code, Congress was also working to modernize authorities held by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC Act amendments of 1994, among other things, codified longstanding internal FTC policy in dealing with claims of unfair or deceptive acts or practices and a growing body of case law.

Specifically, two necessary standards of proof to the broad statutory prohibition on unfair or deceptive acts and practices were added at Section 45(n), Title 15 of the U.S. Code. The first requires that in order for conduct to be qualify as unfair or deceptive it must be “likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which is not reasonably avoidable by consumers themselves.” The second requires that conduct “not [be] outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.”

These reforms were made at a time when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House, and they earned bipartisan support. Similar language was included in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 covering the enforcement responsibilities of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, also when the federal government was fully controlled by Democrats. Unfortunately, while bipartisan recognition of this problem exists in virtually every other consumer protection context, Congress to date has not taken up reform to DOT’s similar Section 41712 Aviation Consumer Protection Authority. This failure to act enabled regulators in recent years to engage in a variety of re-regulatory activities, from new restrictions on airfare advertising to outlawing true nonrefundable ticketing to an inflexible tarmac delay rule suspected of increasing flight cancellations. All of these new consumer protection regulations have been criticized as perversely harming consumers, but without the FTC-style standards of proof, the scales were tipped in favor of the regulators.

The Department of Transportation’s proposal would add comparable standards of proof to Section 41712 enforcement and rulemaking while also codifying internal agency procedures for allowing alleged violators to present evidence defending themselves against possible enforcement or rulemaking activity derived from DOT’s aviation consumer protection authority. Certainly, this will improve airline and ticket agents’ defensive positions at the Department and in court, but it will also require bureaucrats to clearly explain themselves along the way and give consumers better insight into how decisions are made.

To be sure, it would be better for Congress to amend the statute to ensure DOT’s latest “rule on rules” isn’t discarded by future regulators. But Secretary Chao’s proposal is a positive step toward evidence-based consumer protection and safeguarding the large consumer gains from airline deregulation.

Marc Scribner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

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A Rebirth for Instrument Landing Systems?

Long-time readers of this newsletter know that I have long championed GPS-based landing systems, such as Honeywell’s GBAS, which has major advantages over traditional instrument landing systems (ILSs) in use worldwide since the 1940s. But GBAS and its competitors are installed today at only two U.S. airports and less than a dozen others in Europe and Australia/Pacific. So ILS continues as the FAA’s and the military’s standard for the foreseeable future. I was surprised to learn recently that significant technology improvements have been developed for ILS, but the FAA has given them a cold shoulder. More on that below, after a brief explanation of recent ILS improvements.

Legacy ILS has two main components, the glide slope and the localizer. The latter generates a wide field of electromagnetic radiation. Any large object (airplane, building, etc.) within this field interferes with the lateral guidance being provided to an aircraft on final approach to landing. Therefore, planes waiting to take off must remain out of a critical area near the runway end, and they can only taxi into position for takeoff once the arriving plane has landed. This need to wait reduces the runway throughput (landings and takeoffs per hour).

As reported by David Hughes in Air Traffic Management last fall, new-tech ILSs produced by several US and European companies use a much wider array of localizer antennas which produce a much narrower field of electromagnetic radiation. That results in a far smaller critical area, which permits the first aircraft in line to take off to be much closer to the hold line at the runway. (It also permits buildings, such as hangars, to be built in areas that are off-limits with legacy ILSs.) A small but growing number of airports—Geneva, London Heathrow, Oslo, Qatar, Zurich—have installed new-generation ILSs with these narrower beams and have reaped the benefits. For example, Heathrow was able to build its major new Terminal 5 on land that would not have been available had it retained its legacy ILSs. Zurich’s new ILS plus NAVBLUE software has led to a 20 percent increase in runway throughput under low-visibility conditions.

Producers of these systems are frustrated by the FAA’s disinterest. They claim that when NextGen began, ILS was seen as antiquated and GPS was the future—so good-bye ILS. But when FAA says GPS, they mean a costly system that uses billion-dollar satellites to provide space-based augmentation of GPS signals for general aviation airports. That system is called WAAS, and has indeed provided precision approaches for numerous GA airports over the past decade. FAA maintains that airlines will also equip their planes to use WAAS, but that seems unlikely. About a hundred regional jets are equipped, but there is no sign that Airbus or Boeing will build airliners with WAAS capability. Indeed, both are instead offering GBAS-type capability on most of their newer models, in part because there is a modest trend toward GLS (GPS landing systems a la GBAS) at major airports in Europe, Australia, and Asia.

Interestingly, the Air Force has recently invested in next-generation ILSs, and envisions a useful life of at least 20 years before it needs to consider alternatives. Meanwhile, FAA policy leaves commercial airports with outmoded ILSs, and the agency will not fund airline-type GLSs like GBAS. The airports that have them (EWR, IAH) and are seriously considering them (JFK, LGA, SEA, and SFO) have to buy GBAS themselves, since FAA will not do so. Meanwhile, it lavishes money on WAAS, which will never be of use to the airports that handle 95 percent of all airline passengers. “Not Invented Here” is a dismaying problem, especially when embraced by a large and important government agency.

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In Memoriam

This month we sadly lost two aviation colleagues I worked with on air traffic control reform.

On March 1, Mike Korens died of a massive heart attack at age 57. Mike was a friend and colleague, and highly respected across the aviation community. As an attorney specializing in aviation, he cut his teeth as a staffer working for Sen. Larry Pressler on the Senate Commerce Committee. Later on, as a consultant, he served an array of clients, including Aireon, Emirates, FedEx, Nav Canada, and the Denver and Orlando International Airports.

I first met Mike in the 1990s, when he sought me out after seeing my writings on air traffic control reform and the launch of Nav Canada. Over the years, he became my go-to guy for information about and contacts within both Aireon and Nav Canada. His contacts and assistance helped inform the discussions about a U.S. ATC corporation that took place at both the Business Roundtable and the Eno Center for Transportation, which helped lead to then-House T&I Committee Chairman Bill Shuster’s air traffic control reform bills. As one commentator wrote on an aviation blog, “Mike was as smart, decent, loyal, passionate, and honest person as there is in our business, or in life for that matter.” I will miss him greatly.

Another recent loss was Jonathan Howe, one of aviation’s highly respected elder statesmen. With a law degree from Yale, he began his career at FAA, and moved up to being Deputy Chief Counsel in 1978 and subsequently served as head of FAA’s Southern Region. In 1992 he was tapped as the new CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, where his international contacts broadened NBAA’s reach and influence. Still later, he moved to Geneva to be Director General of Airports Council International-World.

I met Jonathan shortly after his retirement from ACI-World, introduced by mutual friend Jim Haynes. With his wide range of aviation expertise, Jonathan became convinced that the U.S. ATC system was no longer state-of-the-art, and along with colleagues including former FAA Administrator Langhorne Bond, former CAB Chairman Alfred Kahn, former NATA chairman Jim Haynes, former DOT Secretary Jim Burnley, and others produced a public statement, “The Need for Fundamental Reform of Air Traffic Control,” introduced at a news conference in Washington on Sept. 19, 2007.

That statement, alas, is just as true today as it was in 2007.

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News Notes

Court Says Third Heathrow Runway Is Illegal
The Court of Appeal of the High Court of England and Wales ruled that the government’s approval of a third runway at London Heathrow is illegal, because it is potentially in conflict with the Paris climate agreement, which the UK signed in 2016. The ruling came despite the recent pledge by the UK aviation industry to cut net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050. The new government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it will not appeal the decision; Johnson has long opposed the third runway. That leaves its fate to Heathrow Airport Ltd., which will definitely appeal the decision.

Belgium Joins the Remote Tower Brigade
The ANSP of Belgium—Skeyes—last month announced plans to establish digital remote towers to serve six airports, including the main hub in Brussels and secondary commercial airport Charleroi. The program will also include the airports of Antwerp, Kortrijk, Liege, and Ostend. The first step will be a request for proposal (RFP) to solicit a commercial partner for the program. The timing of the shift to remote towers will depend on the age and condition of existing towers. Skeyes’ announcement said that “Digital towers are the future of air traffic management at airports and are being deployed all over Europe. . . . Skeyes wants to invest in the technology of the future to improve the quality of service provided to its customers.” Got that, FAA?

PreCheck Up to 10 Million Members
The Transportation Security Administration has announced that membership in PreCheck expanded by 18 percent in the year ended Feb. 29. The new total is 10 million. And this is before the ramp-up in enrollment efforts by two new contractors, authorized in 2018 by Congress and put under contract late last year by TSA. Alclear and Telos Identity Management Solutions will join long-time monopoly contractor Morpho Trust (now called IDEMIA) in recruiting and screening potential PreCheck members.

Regional Agency to Study St. Louis Airport’s Future
The East-West Gateway Council of Governments last month announced that its staff has defined the topics for a consultant study on the future of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. The project is widely viewed as an effort to build a case for creating a regional airport authority to wrest control of Lambert from its long-time owner, the city of St. Louis. Pressure from regional interests led to Mayor Lyda Krewson’s abrupt abandonment of under-way plans for a public-private partnership (P3) lease of the airport, just before Christmas.

Temporary Controllers Now in Action at Loveland, CO, Airport
In an important step toward launching operations from its new remote tower, FAA-certified controllers, on March 10, began handling landings and takeoffs at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport. They are operating from a portable control tower, in the first phase of preparing for an eventual shift to the new virtual/remote tower. Operations from the conventional (though portable) tower will provide baseline data for the evaluation of test-phase operations from the remote tower—and will eventually lead to FAA certification.

RAF May Install Europe’s First Military Remote Tower
The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is planning to test a remote tower at its Lossiemouth air base in Scotland this year. The experimental tower will be built by Saab UK, starting in April. The existing conventional tower at the base is old and in need of replacement. The RAF understands that a remote tower would be less costly to build and to operate.

Leidos Flight Service Station Contract Renewed by FAA
One of FAA’s most successful contract operations has been the refurbishment and consolidation of a network of Flight Service Stations, originally by Lockheed Martin. The company brought advanced technology to these facilities and consolidated them from 58 down to today’s five, with the full support of general aviation groups AOPA and NBAA. In September 2018 FAA called for new proposals for its Future Flight Services Program. And in January, Leidos (which acquired Lockheed Martin’s aviation business several years ago) was announced as the winner. FAA is seeking a 65 percent reduction in flight services cost via FFSP.

Norway’s ANSP Plans UTM System
Avinor, the ANSP of Norway, has contracted with Frequentis and Altitude Angel to develop and deploy a system for Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM). The aim is to integrate traffic management of drones and aircraft in controlled airspace via a single system. The companies will provide a new Flight Information Management System, a drone registration system, and a web and mobile flight planning application.

ULI Launches Airport Development Council
The Urban Land Institute has created a new council, this one focused on airports. Its mission is to define best practices for development and management of airport properties. One of its key points is “selectively utilizing PPP [P3] project delivery mechanisms.” Steve Forrer of Aviation Facilities Company and Chris LeTourneur of MXD Development Strategists are the co-chairs of the ULI Airport Development Council.

Aeroports de Paris Buys Stake in India’ GMR Airports
ADP, which is set to be privatized by the French government this year, has reached agreement to acquire 49 percent of the equity in Indian private airport developer GMR Airports. ADP is reportedly paying $1.4 billion for the stake in the company. GMR Airports is a subsidiary of GMR Infrastructure, which will retain 51 percent ownership of the airports company.

New Airport Concessions in Eastern Europe
Slovenia’s government has requested expressions of interest (EOI) for a concession to modernize the country’s second-largest airport, MERA in Maribor. Responses were due by March 16. And Bulgaria’s government has decided to try again for a concession to modernize the Plovdiv Airport in southern Bulgaria. The concession term will be 35 years, and the project will include upgrades to the terminal.

Paine Field Hits One Million Passengers
On Feb. 24, the country’s newest commercial airport, north of Seattle in Snohomish County, recorded its millionth passenger. Commercial service began a bit less than a year before, made possible by the privately developed and operated passenger terminal. Developer Brett Smith, CEO of Propeller Airports, was on hand for the occasion. In January, USA Today named the airport one of America’s 10 best small airports. For short/medium-length trips, it provides residents and business travelers in the northern part of the Seattle metro area with a welcome alternative to far-off Seattle International (SEA) south of downtown.

Garmin Autoland Wins Aviation Week Laurel
The amazing system that will automatically land a small plane if the pilot cannot do this—Autoland by Garmin—is the recipient of an Aviation Week 2020 Laurel for Aviation Safety. The system, which has been chosen by three GA aircraft producers, is still awaiting FAA certification, after nearly 900 Garmin test flights.

Airport Concession in Guinea
A joint venture company has signed a 25-year concession to expand and modernize the Conakry International Airport in Guinea. The three parties are Aeroports de Paris (33 percent), Africa50 (33 percent), and the government of Guinea (34 percent). The project will include a new passenger terminal to handle up to a million annual passengers. Africa50 is an infrastructure investment fund started in 2015; it has invested in projects in half a dozen African countries prior to this new project in Guinea.

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Quotable Quotes

“The upside of this catastrophe [COVID-19] is that people may realize just how hard modern life is without aviation. Sure, yes, at the moment, there is brave talk about how we can proceed with virtual meetings and teleconferences and exchanges of notes, but let’s be frank. The two most useful things any conference organizer can provide are long coffee breaks and wide corridors. I hate to break it to all you speakers at conferences out there, and yes, I include myself in that group, but no one goes to grandly named Summits and Congresses and Conventions for the presentations. They go for the networking, for the serendipity of contact and the spontaneous meetings and quickly exchanged words that spark new thoughts. One year of this brave-faced virtual-meetings-are-the-way-forward malarkey and we will learn again what ‘pent-up demand’ might mean. Airlines have always been a leading-edge indicator of the economy, and right now (those of sensitive dispositions should look away), when things come back, the airlines will be there first.”
—Andrew Charlton, “Coronavirus Crisis Is an Opportunity to Remake the Aviation Industry,” Forbes.com, March 15, 2020

“If we accept the widely-cited figure that [U.S.] railroads output 30 percent less carbon per passenger- mile, we must examine the routes they take to deliver passengers to their destinations in the U.S. . . . . I took an overnight train [from Washington, DC] through Chicago to get to St. Louis—a one-way trip of 1,094 miles. The trip emitted 330 lbs. of CO2 and took 28 hours, including a 5-hour layover in Chicago. A point-to-point return flight required only 720 miles, at a cost of 252 lbs. of CO2 and took about 3 hours, including boarding and taxiing. So not only did the train ride take nine times longer and cost more, it also produced 32 percent more carbon emissions. This is not a criticism of Amtrak. But if we are taking trains over airplanes to save the environment, we are failing our planet miserably.”
—George Novak, “Why You Should Not Be Ashamed to Fly,” Aviation Week, Feb. 10-23, 2020

“If stimulating a market solution [for Position, Navigation, and Timing services] is the Administration’s intent, it must stay actively involved and encourage the process for some time to come. . . . Fortunately, this can be done by leveraging the free market at minimal cost and with little administrative effort. By contracting to subscribe to a commercial service that will provide resilient PNT signals, the government need only invest a relatively small yearly sum using a fairly simple contract vehicle. Such a contracting technique has been used before with great success. In 2007 the FAA did this as a way to establish its ADS-B aviation tracking and safety network. Once the subscription contract was let, the commercial provider was able to get financing and quickly build out the system. Today, the FAA gets the information it needs, doesn’t have the headache of owning and maintaining a large network, and even shares in the revenue the system owner earns from selling data to other companies.”
—Dana Goward, “PNT Executive Order Helpful, But Delays Market Solutions,” GPS World, Feb. 20, 2020

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