Evaluating McCain and Obama on travel issues

Since an investigation I conducted for Consumer Reports in 2007, I've been strongly attuned to the subject of airline maintenance outsourcing and the FAA's lack of oversight. Now this issue appears to be reaching the presidential level.

As BTC's Mitchell says, "Both presidential campaigns need to reevaluate their travel industry policies in light of painful and relevant insights gained from the financial crisis. Chief among lessons-learned is that ... lower safety and security standards, and woefully inadequate FAA oversight of outsourced aircraft maintenance here in the U.S. and in foreign countries, will result in loss of life."

Obama has directly addressed the topic with a campaign statement vowing to "appoint a qualified FAA Administrator who will not play politics with the safety of American travelers and he will work with Congress to strengthen the FAA's mandate."

For many, the outsourcing issue has evolved into a labor issue. Certainly there is no denying the overseas jobs component, but the bigger concern is the safety and security of the nation's aviation system. Even so, because of Obama's opposition to maintenance outsourcing, he has received key endorsements from labor organizations, while McCain has been attacked by those same groups.

Earlier this year, Obama wrote to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters: "The practice of outsourcing aircraft maintenance overseas raises security concerns and pits our skilled mechanics making a middle class living against less skilled, less well protected workers abroad."

Subsequently the Teamsters endorsed Obama and have claimed that McCain has "opposed routine FAA safety inspections of foreign repair stations that perform maintenance on American commercial aircraft." In addition, the Teamsters said Obama opposes and McCain supports foreign ownership of U.S. airlines.

The AFL-CIO also opposes McCain and provides legislative details on McCain's voting record on aviation issues dating back to the 1980s. McCain's campaign site does not address any of these issues specifically.

Promoting travel and inbound tourism

The Travel Industry Association states its number one priority is to drive more international business to the United States. "While we are not endorsing either candidate, we are doing what we can to raise the noise level on travel issues," says TIA's Freeman.

So why not support one of the candidates? "Neither has stepped up and given these issues the attention they deserve," says Freeman. But although he diplomatically notes TIA's "confidence" in both men, Freeman says there is one issue that separates them: "Obama has been particularly helpful by supporting the Travel Promotion Act."

This legislation, S. 1661, is described as "a bill to communicate United States travel policies and improve marketing and other activities designed to increase travel in the United States from abroad." The Act would establish the Corporation for Travel Promotion, funded by borrowing from the Treasury, assessments on private travel firms, and new fees charged to users of the Visa Waiver Program. Obama currently is among 51 senators—Democrats and Republicans—supporting the measure.

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