Five Keys Issues Facing Aviation and Transportation Secretary LaHood

National’s Journal’s Transportation Experts Blog asks, ‘What should Secretary LaHood’s new aviation advisory committee focus on?’

Let me suggest five guiding principles.

First, do no harm. By that I mean don’t undercut or hobble the democratization of air travel ushered in by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Even though adjusting to real competition has been difficult for most legacy carriers (and some new entrants), some airline business models are succeeding, even in today’s recession. Passengers overwhelmingly prefer low fares to greater amenities, and we should respect their judgment.

Second, implement further reforms of the air traffic control system, as recommended by both the Baliles and Mineta Commissions. Implementing the much-needed NextGen paradigm shift will remain high-risk, if the Air Traffic Organization remains embedded in a traditional federal bureaucracy subject to continual micromanagement and unable to tap the capital markets for large-scale investments. The Nav Canada example of user-board governance and a bondable user-charge funding system is the best model for what the ATO should become.

Third, strengthen FAA safety regulation, in two ways. Get serious about applying a single safety standard to all scheduled air service. And put FAA safety regulation at arm’s length from the provision of air traffic control services, by separating the ATO from the FAA. The latter is critically important to ensure public confidence in the major changes (e.g., automation, reduced separation standards) inherent in implementing NextGen.

Fourth, get serious about “over-scheduling” at major congested airports, by implementing runway congestion pricing at such airports. Yes, NextGen and more concrete have roles to play, but ultimately when peak-period demand still far exceeds capacity, that limited capacity must be allocated somehow. The fairest way to do that is via market pricing.

Fifth, let’s implement truly open skies, by dropping the anachronistic protectionism that still treats airlines as different from other competitive industries. In other words, remove the restrictions on foreign ownership, so as to permit the emergence of truly global carriers with access to global capital markets. And yes, that will ultimately mean removing restrictions on cabotage.

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.