Abolish the FAA

I started writing about what a bunch of goons the FAA is on September 3rd, 2001. I was mentally organizing the points against them as I stood in London's Gatwick airport. My toiletries bag was being manually searched for the second time in three hours, after being x-rayed three times. My wife is a Serb with a Yugoslav passport. The US government now sees fit to have all Yugoslav citizens searched and carefully scrutinized prior to entering the United States, regardless of whether or not they're married to an American, live here, or have a perfect track record of dozens of flights without so much as a nasty word to a stewardess. (side note: Jesse Jackson help! I've been profiled!) As I griped at the first old Brit who searched us, he nasally informed me that "It's your country's FAA policy, not ours." Great. The FAA had managed to reach across the ocean to impose its moronic security measures on me. Two years ago, FAA security measures included a strip search of my 18-year-old brother-in-law. A Serb, coming to the United States on a high school exchange program, he was marched on the plane with armed guards in front and behind. Needless to say, his first experience with the security bureaucracy in the Land of the Free made Yugoslavia's police seem downright reasonable.

After our ritual humiliation in London, complete with underwear on the check-in counter while fellow passengers looked on, my wife and I saw exactly how effective the FAA's security proved. Perfectly effective at humiliating, infuriating, and inconveniencing law-abiding citizens.

On May 11, 1996, ValueJet flight #592 from Miami to Atlanta crashed in the Everglades, killing all aboard. The airline was nearly bankrupted from the bad publicity, loss of fares, and FAA grounding. They eventually merged with another discount carrier, AirTran, taking their name. In the free market, consumers reward companies by purchasing goods and services they want, and punish companies by avoiding them. I like flying Continental, because the planes are new, the crews are friendly, the flights are on time, and the tickets are competitively priced. I didn't like TWA for the exact opposite reasons, and many people shared my views, because TWA is now out of business. That's the free market at work, harshly but effectively correcting businesses, while providing customers more and more for their money.

On September 11, 2001, the FAA security measures at 3 airports completely failed. The FAA on-board security protocols, identically flawed aboard two separate airlines, also failed. The hijackers were able to take control of four aircraft. The FAA, if their security did manage to interdict any of the hijackers, has yet to tell us about it; leaving us fairly certain that the hijackers had a 100% success rate against FAA security measures, on their first try. While the FAA's flawed security did nothing to protect the thousands in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and on board, the story of United Flight 93 is different. Conspiracy shootdown theories aside, it seems that armed only with the grim knowledge that the other hijacked jets had been used as flying bombs, private citizens rushed the terrorists, and took care of business. And so we see the naked truth, starkly illustrated by the fragmented remnants of the one plane that did not find its target: a handful of brave private citizens are more effective than the entire obstacle course of FAA faux security.

When the airlines screw up by providing lousy service, by crashing, or by losing bags, the consumers punish them, viz. TWA and ValueJet. When the FAA screws up, it transfers the punishment to, that's right, the companies that get the wonderful "security service" and their passengers. Although the Fed-induced, post boom economic slowdown is partially to blame, the FAA's incompetence and ham fisted response has certainly helped destroy at least one company, and put over 70,000 people out of work.

Announced Layoffs to Date Midway Bankrupt 1,700 Continental 12,000 United 20,000 U.S. Air 11,000 Boeing 30,000

These are just the major cuts. This doesn't include the smaller regional airlines, or the foreign airlines affected by the grounding. The most infuriating characteristic of government bureaucracy is that it functions in the exactly opposite manner from the free market. If a private security consulting company had two of its airline clients compromised, it would quickly be bankrupted, as its customers took their business to the competition. In typical post-government-failure fashion, the FAA has asked for more power and more “funding”. Especially galling to those who are losing jobs, the FAA has opened a web site to post job openings.

That this pathetic failure of a government agency still exists after demonstrating their complete incompetence is a travesty of justice. The FAA provided only the thin, illusory veneer of security, while guaranteeing that jetliners were targets for hijacking by disarming all on board. Terrorists won't use the same tactics next time. It won't be thanks to the FAA running us through metal detectors more slowly, taking the steak knives off planes, putting an Air Marshall on board, making us park further away, or stopping curb-side check-in. It'll be thanks to the heroic example of the private citizens aboard Flight 93.

If terrorists try to hijack an airplane, you can bet the people on board will assume the worst, and do everything to stop it. The old assumptions of "just do what they say and no one gets hurt" or "let the experts negotiate this" are gone. The terrorists know this. They are deterred from using the same tactics next time. The FAA has exactly nothing to do with these facts of life. It is private citizens with a normal concern for their safety and that of others that will prevent a repeat of the 9-11 attacks. The airlines are probably already meeting with Boeing, designing reinforced cockpit bulkheads to retrofit their airplanes and protect their pilots. No doubt the FAA will mandate this and other obvious safety measures that the airlines are going to implement anyhow, however, they'll continue to pile on ineffective, expensive measures like they already have so it looks like they're "doing something."

The FAA should be abolished, and every FAA "employee" should be laid off. Some of the billions that Congress is ladling out to the airlines could be used as capital investment in a private air traffic control firm to take the place of the FAA. The airlines, in conjunction with their insurance providers, should craft their own security measures, and advertise them as competitive advantages.

I've had quite enough of the "I just need to look in your bag" harassment, added cost, and "did anyone give you a ticking package" lost time that the FAA has heaped on me and other law-abiding Americans for years. What's needed is more of what works: private industry, and less of what has completely failed: government regulation.

September 26, 2001

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