May 9, 2013 by Anders Ingemarson
These days Maria and I are looking forward to a visit to the old country with some trepidation. It seems air travel is becoming more and more arduous every year and we can hardly take a trip without some level of hassle—delays, snowstorms, thunderstorms, annoying security checks, lost baggage—you name it, we’ve experienced it. And most recently, although we were thankfully not impacted, the Air Traffic Control post-sequester tantrum. So for the most part we prefer to stay at home or take road trips. When you live in Colorado, both are pretty darn good options.
Since the first time I boarded an airplane in 1976 not much has improved, and in the 10+ years since 9/11 the experience has gotten worse. I know, fuel efficiency is better, airlines cover longer distances with smaller planes, and the airfare is lower as a share of disposable income. But leg room hasn’t gotten any better, and it basically takes as long to cross the Atlantic today as it did 40 years ago.
Compare this with the developments during the first 40 years of flight. The Wright’s brothers took to the air at Kitty Hawk in December of 1903. About 40 years later the first commercial airliner, the DC-4 crossed the Atlantic. With that rate of development continuing, vacationing on the moon would have been commonplace today.
What happened? Our inferior foreign policy takes most of the blame for the worsening experience the past ten years. And the deterioration in the natural sciences—physics in particular—probably explains some of the absence of new technology. But more than anything, government regulation is to blame.
As long as our elected representatives control the market place through the regulatory agencies, in this case primarily the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), air travel will continue to deteriorate.
The solution here as in all other areas of the economy is to separate government and everything air transportation related. Complete deregulation and privatization is the only solution that protects the individual rights of all participants in the marketplace—from airlines, airplane manufacturers, and airports, including air traffic control, to passengers, freight customers, suppliers and subcontractors. Some of the folks at the FAA would probably find employment at private entities licensing and certifying other industry players. And all interactions between the market participants would be based on the voluntary exchange of goods, services and ideas.
Probably the most disastrous impact of government regulation is the blocking out of entrepreneurs with new bold ideas. Regulations increase the barriers of entry, favoring the big players. You have to be big to be able to cope with the maze of government decrees. This is the primary driver behind the consolidation of airlines and airplane manufacturers over the past decades. Today, the young and ambitious with a vision think iPhone and iPad, not iFly. Why beat up on yourself by taking on a Kafkaesque government bureaucracy like the FAA? Elon Musk of SpaceX may be an exception but he made his money in the “i” world first, with PayPal.
If the FAA had been around at the time of the Wright brothers, they would never have gotten off the ground. We can only hope that today’s Wilburs and Orvilles find their passion in some other, less regulated industry, to the benefit of us all. But most likely we’re missing out on many of them altogether due to the suffocating regulatory burden preventing them from realizing their ideas.
We should help them pursue their dreams by becoming champions of flying the free market skies, of separating state and air transportation. With our help, they will someday take us not only to the moon but to infinity and beyond.