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Don’t Destroy Aviation for Illusion of Security

Crippling airlines isn't the answer

Commercial airlines have resumed flying with three pages of new federal security requirements. A whole raft of new provisions – no cars within 300 feet of terminals, no curbside or hotel baggage check-in, limits on electronic tickets, detailed searches of planes before every flight – will do little or nothing to make air travel safer. Ironically, these well-intended “feel-good” measures may inadvertently achieve one of the terrorists’ goals by crippling our aviation industry.

When Wall Street reopened last Monday, airline stocks plummeted. Almost all of the major carriers have cut flight schedules. Continental plans to lay off 12,000 employees. U.S. Airways expects to cut 11,000 jobs. And this could just be the beginning. Prior to the bombings, U.S. airlines were on the way to losing $ 2.5 billion this year. Between the shutdown and the new restrictions and their impact, that number could easily double by year-end. That’s likely to mean more airlines going under, reducing the extent of competition. And less competition means higher airfares.

There’s no doubt that aviation security needs to be dramatically improved, but it can be done without destroying the airlines and affordable air travel. None of the pre-existing security measures prevented well-trained, suicidal fanatics from getting on flights with legal knives, gaining control of the cockpits, and turning the planes into manned cruise missiles.

Thus, our first priority must be making airplanes defensible. That means armed sky marshals on as many flights as possible, adding more secure cockpit doors and selectively arming crew members.

It’s on the ground where the danger of costly, but ineffective regulations is greatest. Before piling on new mandates, the present airport security system needs to be rethought. Both the General Accounting Office and the Department of Transportation inspector general have issued scathing reports on airport security.

One Federal Aviation Administration official said that Boston and Newark “leak like a sieve.” In 1999 federal agents were able to sneak through security doors 46 times at four major airports and walk around on the tarmac or board planes unchallenged.

But as these reports make clear, the biggest holes in the system are behind the scenes, not in the flow of passengers through metal detectors at screening points. And airport security should become the sole responsibility of the airport operator, not fragmented among the airport, the major airlines and numerous contractors.

Further harassing passengers with bans on curbside check-in and making them stand in endless lines despite using e-tickets has made the delays at airports much worse. Yet these measures would not have stopped the terrorists. Better technology for screening all bags and detecting even ceramic knives under people’s clothes, as well as high-tech systems for positive passenger identification, would be far more useful than inane security questions and more requirements to wait in long lines.

Sensible changes like defensible airplanes and smarter airport security will modestly raise the cost of flying, but probably by no more than a few dollars per passenger per flight. But measures of the kind proposed and instituted since this tragedy could cripple the airlines by cutting into both leisure and business travel markets.

These pointless regulations have added several hours to already long and tiring trip times. Growing numbers of business travelers will decide that’s the last straw – and make fewer airline trips. And while business travelers make up only one-third of airlines’ passengers, they pay two-thirds of all the fares.

Even worse will be the impact on what the industry calls leisure travelers – ordinary people flying to visit relatives or take vacations. The requirement that each plane receive a thorough security inspection before each flight will destroy the ability of low-fare airlines like Southwest to turn around a flight in 20 minutes. That means a 737 that now makes 10 flights per day will be able to make only seven. So today’s affordable fares will have to be raised. And there goes the ability of many families to get together for the holidays.

We must make sure that airplanes cannot be commandeered and turned into manned cruise missiles. But that can be done by making planes defensible and by taking reasonable steps to improve airport security. It does not require regulations that cripple the airlines and make flying unaffordable for ordinary Americans.

Robert W. Poole, Jr. directs the Transportation Studies Program at the Reason Foundation. He advised the White House Domestic Policy Council and several members of Congress on airport security improvements following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Viggo Butler recently served on the Federal Aviation Administration’s Research, Engineering & Development Advisory Committee.

Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.

Surface Transportation

In the field of surface transportation, Poole has advised the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the White House Office of Policy Development, National Economic Council, Government Accountability Office, and state DOTs in numerous states.

Poole's 1988 policy paper proposing privately financed toll lanes to relieve congestion directly inspired California's landmark private tollway law (AB 680), which authorized four pilot toll projects including the successful 91 Express Lanes in Orange County. More than 20 other states and the federal government have since enacted similar public-private partnership legislation. In 1993, Poole oversaw a study that coined the term HOT (high-occupancy toll) Lanes, a term which has become widely accepted since.

California Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Poole to the California's Commission on Transportation Investment and he also served on the Caltrans Privatization Advisory Steering Committee, where he helped oversee the implementation of AB 680.

From 2003 to 2005, he was a member of the Transportation Research Board's special committee on the long-term viability of the fuel tax for highway finance. In 2008 he served as a member of the Texas Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Roads, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. In 2009, he was a member of an Expert Review Panel for Washington State DOT, advising on a $1.5 billion toll mega-project. In 2010, he was a member of the transportation transition team for Florida's Governor-elect Rick Scott. He is a member of two TRB standing committees: Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes.


Poole is a member of the Government Accountability Office's National Aviation Studies Advisory Panel and he has testified before the House and Senate's aviation subcommittees on numerous occasions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Poole consulted the White House Domestic Policy Council and the leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

He has also advised the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, White House Office of Policy Development, National Performance Review, National Economic Council, and the National Civil Aviation Review Commission on aviation issues. Poole is a member of the Critical Infrastructure Council of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and of the Air Traffic Control Association.

Poole was among the first to propose the commercialization of the U.S. air traffic control system, and his work in this field has helped shape proposals for a U.S. air traffic control corporation. A version of his corporation concept was implemented in Canada in 1996 and was more recently endorsed by several former top FAA administrators.

Poole's studies also launched a national debate on airport privatization in the United States. He advised both the FAA and local officials during the 1989-90 controversy over the proposed privatization of Albany (NY) Airport. His policy research on this issue helped inspire Congress' 1996 enactment of the Airport Privatization Pilot Program and the privatization of Indianapolis' airport management under Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

General Background

Robert Poole co-founded the Reason Foundation with Manny Klausner and Tibor Machan in 1978, and served as its president and CEO from then until the end of 2000. He was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team in 2000. Over the years, he has advised the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations on privatization and transportation policy.

Poole is credited as the first person to use the term "privatization" to refer to the contracting-out of public services and is the author of the first-ever book on privatization, Cutting Back City Hall, published by Universe Books in 1980. He is also editor of the books Instead of Regulation: Alternatives to Federal Regulatory Agencies (Lexington Books, 1981), Defending a Free Society (Lexington Books, 1984), and Unnatural Monopolies (Lexington Books, 1985). He also co-edited the book Free Minds & Free Markets: 25 Years of Reason (Pacific Research Institute, 1993).

Poole has written hundreds of articles, papers, and policy studies on privatization and transportation issues. His popular writings have appeared in national newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and numerous other publications. He has also been a guest on network television programs such as Good Morning America, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News Tonight, and the CBS Evening News. Poole writes a monthly column on transportation issues for Public Works Financing.

Poole earned his B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and did graduate work in operations research at New York University.

Viggo Butler is chairman of United Airports Limited and the retired president of Airport Group International and its predecessor, Lockheed Air Terminal. He received his B.A. from California Polytechnic and his M.B.A from Pepperdine University; he served as a USAF captain supervising air traffic control.