While there are extraordinarily important issues to reckon with–endingthis catastrophic war and devising a sane national security policy,providing universal health care, and repairing the gutted socialcompact–fixing our air travel system may be one of the most potentpolitical issues of our time.
An outdated air traffic control system, flight routes from the 1950’s,and air traffic controllers retiring more quickly than they can bereplaced while the Bush Administration plays hardball on a new contractand imposes work rules— these are just some of the issues that have led to the airline “industry post[ing] its worston-time performance since it began collecting comparable statistics in1995.”
Roughly 25 percent of domestic flights run late. And now–with 27 million passengers expected to travel over Thanksgivingand the public taking matters into its own hands with the air passenger billof rights movement–President Bush has attempted to “solve” the problem with a little sleight-of-hand and a PR effort.
To much fanfare, Bush has opened up restricted military airspace offof the East Coast to create a “Thanksgiving express lane for congested traffic.”
But the Bush Administration fails to mention that opening up militaryairspace is already routine. According to the Washington Post, “Sucharrangements are not new. The FAA coordinates daily with the DefenseDepartment and seeks same-day clearance to use military airspace if, forexample, weather conditions are better in the military’s part of thesky.”
Susan Gurley, executive director of the Association of Corporate TravelExecutives, told the New York Times Bush’s move is like “putting aBand-Aid on a broken arm.” And airline industry forecaster, MichaelBoyd, said, “What’s all this rah-rah about the holiday season? What’schanged? We’re just going to stagger on the way we’ve been doing forthe past year, vulnerable to any glitch in the system, vulnerable to anyweather issues.”
After the collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis I wrote about how our eroding public infrastructure demanded a real public investment agenda (just as I had called for when the levees broke in New Orleans). The antiquated air traffic system is a key partof that agenda. Now the alarms are ringing loudly on that front. Sowhat can be done?