Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Safety and Saving Money

An air traffic controller falls asleep in the control tower at Washington Reagan National Airport. A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 gets a rip in its outer skin, forcing an emergency landing and a nationwide review of older 737s. A rocking, shaking take-off of a United Continental Airlines flight is aborted, with the plane returning in a hurry to New Orleans Airport.

These things all happened in the past week or so - coincidentally just when both U.S. President Barack Obama and the opposition Republican Party are looking to slash the budget of the regulatory Federal Aviation Administration as part of ongoing and bitterly partisan spending wars on Capitol Hill.

I agree with the conservative mantra that you can't solve problems solely by throwing money at them. Conversely, the sacrificial cuts advocated by the GOP - should they go beyond fat and into muscle - could end up sacrificing the safety of the traveling public at a time when the aging fleets of U.S. carriers are really starting to show their decrepitude. Beyond the budget battle looms a possible shutdown of most of the U.S. Government by this weekend - again, the sticking point is money.

The FAA and the travel industry are just part of an exremely complex situation - but an important part. Travel, trade and much national and international commerce depend on a safely operated, well-run transport system. Somehow, someone, somewhere has got to grow up and stop using travel infrastructure as a political football. A tall order, I know. But lives, as well as a nation's solvency, depend on it.

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