Evaluating McCain and Obama on travel issues

Meanwhile, the subject of re-regulating the airline industry is no longer taboo, as I noted back in September. Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC), notes, "By most measures, the airline industry is not functioning well at all 30 years and 165 airline-failures after deregulation ... Insufficient regulation of the financial markets, as a root cause of the current financial crisis, will likely provide more support for those favoring some level of government intervention in the troubled airline industry." Neither candidate has directly addressed the issue of re-regulation.

Modernizing air traffic control

Back in May, the Travel Industry Association (TIA) released a survey of 1,003 air travelers that asserted "deep frustration" with the nation's aviation infrastructure prompted the cancellation of 41 million trips at a cost of $26 billion. Though some may question the extrapolation of such figures, there's no denying the sentiment behind the statistics: TIA found more than 60% of the respondents believe the air travel system is deteriorating, and much of that frustration is aimed at the nation's aging air traffic control system.

McCain is a former Navy pilot and one of his sons is an American Airlines pilot, so the Republican candidate is clearly conversant in ATC issues. Although he has not specifically addressed the issue during this campaign, in the past McCain has advocated shifting responsibility for ATC from Federal Aviation Administration employees to the private sector. Several years ago, the Reason Foundation reported McCain was in favor of privatizing ATC and in the Senate he declared that efforts to restrict "the conversion of any FAA facilities or functions from the Federal Government to the private sector" were "inappropriate and unnecessary."

Obama, on the other hand, maintains the FAA "has failed to work well with our nation's air traffic controllers, neglecting to treat them with the respect they deserve." His campaign says it will work with Congress to modernize ATC and Obama will direct the new FAA Administrator to "work cooperatively" with frontline controllers.

Not surprisingly, the union representing those frontline employees has backed Obama. Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), states that his organization hopes for a president " who will once again demand accountability and fairness in the FAA, restore collaboration with controllers, and recognize that a strong, fully-staffed, and respected controller workforce is essential in ensuring the safety of the traveling public."

Perhaps the earliest endorsement from any sector of the travel industry was the Air Travelers Association's backing of Obama back in January, long before it was certain he would even be his party's nominee. David Stempler, the organization's president, stated: "The best hope for airline passengers to solve the current aviation crisis involving congestion, delay, and dangerous safety, near-collision problems is to quickly get in place a new, GPS-based, next generation, air traffic control system, called 'NextGen' ... We believe that Barack Obama will enable us to have safety-based, GPS systems for airliners, sooner than any other candidate for President."

Airline maintenance outsourcing and FAA oversight

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