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Published: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2018 01:09:07 -0400


Why Is Silicon Valley’s Cool New Self-Flying Taxi Taking Off in New Zealand Instead of California?

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 11:40:00 -0400

The air taxi vehicle developed by the startup called Kitty Hawk is now public, and it is impressive. The aircraft will be able to take off vertically and fly up to 60 miles, intelligently piloting itself during the entire flight. Kitty Hawk is funded by Alphabet CEO Larry Page, and boasts a lineup of accomplished executives from the San Francisco Bay area, including alumni from Google, Twitter, and Virgin America. But instead of launching an air taxi service close to their homes and families in Silicon Valley, Kitty Hawk chose New Zealand—a not-very-convenient commute that's something like 15 hours each way. Kitty Hawk did preliminary testing at an airstrip in Hollister, an agricultural town about 50 miles south of San Jose, and the company's headquarters has not shifted from Mountain View. But when its executives conducted a global search for a location to start a service that would eventually carry passengers, California failed to make the cut. A report from New Zealand's news site explains why. It quotes Fred Reid, Kitty Hawk's chief operating officer, as saying they were looking for a country that was open to new ideas, such as approving a single aircraft design that could be used from testing through commercialization. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted to send "the message to the world that our doors are open." Another excerpt: "[CEO Sebastian] Thrun said when meeting people from the government for the first time, the first question everyone asked was how they could make the process faster for Kitty Hawk." It turns out that startups designing autonomous vehicles are as mobile as the aircraft they dream up. If the United States is perceived as too slow to recognize the benefits of these technologies, companies will look elsewhere. The sheer weight of the regulatory structure for autonomous planes will "strangle further innovation—at least in the U.S.," Joe Blair, a vice president at Vancouver, B.C.-based Chrysalix Venture Capital, wrote in an essay last year. "Other countries have welcomed autonomous drones with open arms." France and Switzerland allow drones more flexibility than the U.S. when operating beyond visual line of sight. New Zealand was the location that Domino's chose for the world's first commercial drone delivery service (the pizza's flight time was less than 5 minutes). A cluster of drone companies is forming around Delft in the Netherlands. Dubai will host Uber's air taxi service, a Kitty Hawk competitor that's scheduled to launch in 2020. "It's really a problem," Janina Frankel-Yoeli, vice president of Israel's Urban Aeronautics, told the BBC. Current aircraft are already "virtually capable of taking off, flying and landing on their own," but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will not allow them to fly without a pilot. Greg McNeal, co-founder of drone software company AirMap, told Recode: "We asked why autonomous cars weighing 3,500 pounds can drive next to hundreds of pedestrians, but a three-pound drone can't fly over people." Nobody wants to wake up to an autonomous vehicle crashing through their roof, but it's possible to prevent that without driving companies overseas. Requiring passenger services to secure a hefty amount of insurance is one approach—strict regulations would exist, but would be drafted by insurers. A model can be found closer to the ground: the insurance industry's car safety ratings tend to be tougher and more comprehensive than the federal government's. (The FAA already recognizes "equivalent levels of safety.") For its part, the FAA has shown some signs of trying to break out of a 1950s-era regulatory mentality. In 2016, it released what it calls Part 107 rules for drone operations. These permit lightweight line-of-sight drones operated by a human; waivers are available to permit night flying or operating beyond line of sight. But Part 107 waivers do not extend to carrying passengers or autonomous operations. Not helping matters is the dizzying complexity of regulations: Part 107 waivers don't apply to aircraft over 55 lbs., [...]

Senators Warn DHS About Using Facial Scans on Americans at Airports

Wed, 27 Dec 2017 11:25:00 -0500

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) are teaming up to try to stop the Department of Homeland Security from violating Americans' privacy with facial recognition scanning programs at airports. The two senators sent a letter to the DHS over the holiday weekend pointing out that the pilot project begun by President Barack Obama's administration and continued under President Donald Trump was not intended to be used on U.S. citizens and expressed concerns about flaws with the systems that could result in Americans being denied access to flights. The DHS has begun scanning the faces of people boarding international flights at a handful of U.S. airports, ostensibly to catch illegal immigrants still in the states on expired visas. There are plans to roll out scanners to all airports eventually. This program includes scanning the faces of American citizens, not just foreign travelers. This necessarily means the government is attempting to order citizens to participate in intrusive biometric scanning in order to truly prove who we are. Suddenly, passports are not enough. Americans are permitted to opt out and the images are stored for just two weeks. But over the summer DHS warned that biometric scanning could eventually become mandatory and the images could end up being used for other purposes. As the letter from Lee and Markey note, Congress authorized the pilot program to scan foreign travelers, but specifically declined to authorize biometric scanning of U.S. citizens. The two senators are further concerned about the failure rate and flaws with the technology that could result in as many as one in 25 travelers being misidentified by the facial recognition tools and possibly denied the ability to travel. Their letter coincides with a new report on problems with implementation of biometric scanning in airports by Georgetown Law's Center on Privacy and Technology. The report notes the implementation of the screening program could cost $1 billion, "Yet curiously, neither Congress nor DHS has ever justified the need for the program." The explanation for the program has been to help fight visa overstay travel fraud, where a foreign visitor arranges to stay in the country by having an impersonator leave with his or her visa. But, the report notes, the DHS has not adequately studied the extent of this problem nor explained how implementing additional biometric scanning would be helpful to stop the problem. In fact, DHS officials have themselves questioned whether such scanning would be useful. It still has not completed a planned study to report on the extent of visa overstay problems and the value of biometric scanning to stop it. In the meantime, there are obvious and predictable concerns that the images of American citizens collected from biometric scanning will bleed out of DHS's control and be used for other purposes. American citizens make 50 million trips of year and the Georgetown Law report notes the DHS might extend biometric scans passively into the airports themselves in order to track and identify people. One neither has to be cynical nor paranoid to see this system being used for purposes other than what the government intended. Just as intrusive searches by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are more likely to help the feds fight its foolish war on drugs rather than a war on terrorism, this scanning would most certainly be applied to other purposes. Every surveillance tool that the government insists is used to protect Americans from foreigners ultimately gets used on Americans too. Read the Georgetown study here. And check out Shikha Dalmia's story from Reason magazine's December issue about how overzealous and misguided immigration law enforcement screws over American citizens.[...]

How to Pull Air Traffic Control Out of the 1960s!

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 13:40:00 -0400

(image) Watch Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue (which bills itself, for better or worse, as "New York's Hometown Airline"), talk up the need for air-traffic control (ATC) reform. He ain't kidding. As Reason Foundation's Robert W. Poole has been arguing for decades, our ATC system is mired in 1960s' technology:

The U.S. air traffic system is the world's largest, but technologically it severely lags behind other countries that have already implemented digital messaging, GPS flight tracking and newer alternatives to the 1960s-era systems still found in U.S. air traffic facilities.

The world's second-largest air traffic system, Nav Canada, was "corporatized" 20 years ago. More than 60 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Spain, have self-supporting air traffic control corporations.

The result, Poole argues convincingly, is a U.S. system that causes unnecessary delays without improving safety. In an age of ubiquitous cellphones and GPS systems, all of us is essentially better-equiped than the people directing our flights around the country.

We all want a system that is efficient, safe, and cost-effective, but that can never really happen under current conditions. The way federal budgeting is done, the Federal Aviation Administration never gets the cash and the approval to toss out the equivalent of love beads, mini skirts, and Nehru jackets and join a technological revolution that would make flying faster, more secure, and safer. Poole, JetBlue's Hayes, other airline officials, the air-traffic controllers themselves, and members of Congress got behind a corporatization bill that passed a House panel earlier this year; the full House will vote on the reform bill in September, after the current recess. Unfortunately, the Senate is blocking the legislation, instead pushing for a status quo that every years get a bit moldier.

Here are Poole's answers to 21 Air Traffic Control FAQs.

And here's JetBlue's Hayes laying out the case for ATC reform:

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More info at OnTimeFlights, a website created by the airlines' trade group.

The cover story of the November issue of Reason, written by Bob Poole, is all about fixing the ATC system. It's a great reason to subscribe to the print and/or digital editions of the world's only magazine of "Free Minds and Free Markets." Subscribers get their copies long before the material goes live at For instance, the full October issue is already available to subscribers but behind a paywall for everyone else.

It costs just $14.95 to get either the print or digital editions and it costs just $19.95 for both, along with access to our nearly 50 years worth of archives. Subscribe now!

TSA Shares Blame With United for Fictitious Ban on Comic Books in Checked Bags

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 14:44:00 -0400

Fans returning from last weekend's Comic-Con International in San Diego were dismayed to learn that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had banned books from checked luggage, forcing them to hastily remove their precious convention purchases and cram them into their carry-on bags. But the TSA says it never issued such a mandate, and United Airlines, which told "Comic-Con Attendees" in no uncertain terms to "remove all books from checked bags," says it misunderstood what was merely a suggestion. As tempting as it may be to blame the passenger-dragging, bunny-killing carrier for this gratuitous hassle, the TSA bears a large share of the responsibility. "TSA recommended keeping comic books in carry-on bags, but not required," United tweeted yesterday. "We misunderstood this instruction and regret any inconvenience." The airline apparently was referring to a July 2016 blog post in which the TSA offered this advice to attendees at last year's Comic-Con: Pack items such as stacks of brochures and assorted comic books in your carry-on bag. Place them in a bin prior to sending them through the x-ray. Packing these items in checked bags often causes alarms leading to bag searches which can cause a significant slowdown in the screening process leading to delays and bags possibly missing their flights. If you're not attending Comic-Con International, this guidance applies to any collector or attendee of any comic-con. The TSA did not explain why comic books cause alarms. But in fairness to United, this "guidance" sounds pretty firm, and it is just the sort of head-scratching dictate we have come to expect from the TSA. The "tip" was explicitly aimed at Comic-Con attendees, which may explain why United tweeted on Sunday that "the restriction on checking comic books applies to all airlines operating out of San Diego this weekend and is set by the TSA." On Monday, responding to complaints from Comic-Con travelers, the TSA tweeted that "there are no TSA restrictions on checking comic books or any other types of books." By way of elaboration, it linked to a June 28 blog post that sought to "close the book on book screening rumors." That post said passengers do not have to "remove books from [their] carry-on bags prior to sending [the] bag through the X-ray." But the post did not address the TSA's 2016 instruction to the contrary, and it said nothing about whether books are allowed in checked luggage. Furthermore, the "book screening rumors" were started by the TSA itself, which was "testing the removal of books at two airport locations." After TSA agents began instructing travelers at those airports to remove books from their carry-on bags for separate screening, it seems, people surmised that the TSA had begun requiring that books be removed from carry-on bags for separate screening—an entirely reasonable conclusion, more like an observed fact than a rumor. And if this was merely an experiment at two airports, why did the TSA, in a 2016 post that remains online and uncorrected, tell passengers to "place [comic books] in a bin prior to sending them through the x-ray"? So yes, United should have double-checked with the TSA before telling travelers they could not put comic books in their checked bags. If the airline had simply looked at the TSA's list of prohibited items, which includes things that are allowed in checked luggage but not in carry-ons and possibly vice versa (although I did not notice any in the latter category), it would have seen that books are not officially banned from either. But the TSA invited the confusion about comic books by blurring the line between a suggestion and an order and by routinely forcing passengers to engage in arbitrary rituals aimed at creating the illusion of security.[...]

DHS to American Citizens: Let Us Scan Your Faces, or No International Travel

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Prepare to get your faces scanned whether you like it or not, U.S. citizens, if you want to fly to other countries. It won't be those other countries scanning your mug to make sure it's safe to let you in. These facial recognition and biometric systems, allegedly intended to track foreign travelers for immigration enforcement, will be foisted on you by your own government. Don't blame this on President Donald Trump's anti-immigration fearmongering. This pilot project was put into place a year ago by President Barack Obama's Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You might not have heard much about it yet, because Americans' participation in it is currently voluntary. But as the program expands next year, it may get more coercive. A new report from DHS claims that they have the authority to require citizens to let the government scan their faces as a condition of getting on an international flight. The report says early on, "Because crossing the border is considered voluntary, travelers are subject to the laws and rules enforced by" Customs and Border Protection (CBP). That logic may not exactly hold up to close scrutiny—speech is often voluntary, but that doesn't mean the government can regulate it—but the report rolls with it, arguing that the government's right to inspect travelers extends to biometric scans: [T]he only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling. Individuals seeking to travel internationally are subject to the laws and rules enforced by CBP and are subject to inspection. Another way to ensure citizens aren't subject to having their biometric information collected try to get the courts or lawmakers to stop it. The Associated Press notes that Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) thinks U.S. citizens should be able to opt out of the program. The report does mention the possibility that travelers will be allowed to opt out of the scans and prove their identity another way. But as this report and the AP coverage notes, there is a significant likelihood that such requests might not be honored in the future. The plan also calls for deleting all scans of U.S. citizens after 14 days and not using them for any other purposes. But a CBP representative told the AP that in the future, these images might be stored and then perhaps used for other purposes. None of this should come as a surprise. The government has been increasingly prone to profiling and tracking Americans as they travel, whether it's local police departments scanning license plates or the more than two dozen state departments of motor vehicles that add driver's license photos to facial recognition databases. We've already seen some of the ways this can be abused. Cities are sending threatening letters to car owners just for being parked in areas where prostitution is commonplace. New York City is implementing facial recognition software into its cashless toll road program in order to try to catch people who skip out on paying. There is absolutely no reason to trust that this program will never be more than a way to monitor the comings and goings of foreign travelers. Instead, Americans may find themselves in a permanent virtual police lineup.[...]

Books Spared TSA Screening, But DHS Promises Other Enhanced Security Measures

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 12:40:00 -0400

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has quietly ended a pilot program testing the idea of having passengers remove books from carry-on bags while going through airport security. But other new security measures will be implemented for international flights arriving in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced this week. Airlines that do not comply could see a total ban on large electronics on their flights. In remarks at the Council for New American Security Conference, DHS Secretary John Kelly optimistically stated that with the new measures, "we have the opportunity to raise the baseline on aviation security globally, and we can do it in a manner that will not unduly inconvenience the flying public." Anyone who has experienced TSA screenings knows how unlikely that last bit is. Kelly went on to say that airlines that "choose not to cooperate or are slow to adopt these measures could be subject to other restrictions—including a ban on electronic devices on their airplanes, or even a suspension of their flights to the United States." That means passengers flying with a non-compliant airline could even be prohibited from packing large electronics in a checked bag. Many airlines, especially those subject to the original laptop ban on certain flights from the Middle East, are actually welcoming this announcement since it means there will no longer be a blanket ban on larger electronics as long as they are compliant with the new DHS policies. But what constitutes compliance is not very clear, since the enhanced security measures have not yet been described in detail. Kelly made vague mentions of more advanced technology at security checkpoints and increased use of bomb-sniffing dogs, but that's about it. Nor is it clear how burdensome the new measures will be for travelers, or how much they'll cost. Undoubtedly, much of the cost will be passed onto passengers and taxpayers, who already fund the TSA's current security theater to the tune of $7.6 billion per year. The utter ineffectiveness of the TSA's current screening methods has been well documented and there's no reason to think that the DHS has overcome its propensity to increase passenger irritation with little increased security. The veiled threat to ban all electronics from planes would seem to indicate that the department has no problem doubling down on its past misguided policies, rather than learn from the criticism of the original ban.[...]

Airport Scrutiny to Get Worse as House Moves to Mandate Sex-Trafficking Training

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 13:50:00 -0400

A plan to privatize air-traffic control operations has dominated discussion of the House's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, but the bill's regulatory parameters go far beyond that. An array of government expanding proposals are also included in the House's 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act. One of them would require new mandatory training for all "ticket counter agents, gate agents, and other air carrier workers whose jobs require regular interaction with passengers" on "recognizing and responding to potential human trafficking victims." The trafficking-training amendment, from Rep. Julia Brownley (D-California), was one of dozens of AIRR-Act amendments voted on Tuesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. After more than nine hours of markup and amendments, the Committee approved the AIRR Act, by a vote of 32 to 25. On the surface, Brownley's trafficking amendment may seem beneficial, or at the very least harmless. But it's part of a larger and ongoing government project that is anything but benign. Under the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) "Blue Campaign" and related initiatives, federal agents have already been training flight attendants and other airline personnel on how to "detect" human traffickers or trafficking victims on their planes. They've also been conducting public outreach at airports and elsewhere to encourage ordinary travelers who "see something" suspicious to "say something"—by texting the tip directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). There is no evidence these efforts have actually yielded any trafficking busts—which shouldn't surprise anyone not immersed in some Taken-style fantasy. Immigrants who wind up victims of sex or labor exploitation here are generally lured via fraud—the promise of an opportunity that either doesn't exist or isn't what it was made out to be. Some enter the country illegally, but many come over on tourist, student, or temporary-work visas, flying into the country alone or with others in the same situation. "Potential human trafficking victims" flying into the U.S. on commercial flights through major U.S. airports aren't the sort who can be pre-screened by well-meaning gate agents. But what do employees do with all that extra "awareness"? A heightened sensitivity to anything out-of-the-ordinary—which in the United States can still mean interracial families or a child traveling with two fathers—means a propensity to profile passengers based on stereotypes. An Asian-American woman traveling with her non-Asian husband, a dad traveling alone with his daughter, a gaggle of young Korean women traveling together are the folks flagged by well-meaning and woke customer-service staff. The ICE, DHS, and other law-enforcement staff who greet them aren't always so well-intentioned, although they are fast. "When reports come in to the hotline, [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents come immediately to meet the plane as it reaches the ground," Deborah Sigmund, co-founder and president of the group Innocence at Risk, has said. It's worth noting that Brownley's amendment provides no description of the kind of training airport employees will receive, how often they'll receive it, or who will develop and conduct it. Most likely, responsibility for the training will fall to DHS and its nonprofit advisers, which have already been involved in training truckers, flight attendants, and motel employees on the alleged "signs" of sex trafficking. And from previous experience the training will be useless. The "signs" of sex trafficking they offer range from the rare and ridiculous (the stuff of action-movie lore, like someone with a bar-code tattoo with the word "Daddy" next to it) to excessively broad indicators that could ensnare any one of us on a bad day, such as being dressed "inappropriately" for travel, not knowing [...]

Brickbat: For Your Protection

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Transportation Security Administration screener at Orlando International Airport has been charged with third-degree felony theft after taking cash from a woman's purse. The woman was undergoing a pat-down search when she noticed Alexander Shae Johnson standing near her purse. When she retrieved her purse, she found the cash missing and a bulge in Johnson's shirt pocket.

How the FAA Killed Uber for Planes

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Private flight has long been a luxury limited largely to the über-rich or super dedicated. Unless you have the deep pockets or connections to buy or rent your own small plane, plus a pay for a pilot, fuel costs, insurance, and hangar fees, you will be stuck in the chicken coop of crammed commercial flights with the rest of us peasants for all your flying needs. But what if it didn't have to be that way? What if you could purchase an empty seat on a private flight that was going where you needed to go anyway for a majorly discounted price? This was, for a glorious and brief period of time, made possible by a promising new crop of startups dedicated to bringing flight-sharing to the masses. Dubbed "the Uber of the skies," startups like Flytenow and AirPooler aimed to connect pilots whose private flights were not yet filled to passengers eager to reach their destinations without suffering the horrors of commercial air travel. Founded in 2013, the services were a great win-win for both parties: Pilots no longer had to simply eat the cost of empty seats on each trip, and passengers got to enjoy the thrill of small-scale flight for a very affordable price. For the first time, it seemed like consumers would have a real inexpensive alternative to the hell of economy class travel. That is, until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) caught wind of all this innovation and decided to quash it once and for all. In a sneaky bid to shut down this kind of arrangement, the FAA decided to expansively interpret its own definition of a "common carriage" operator so that non-commercial small-scale pilots using these services would be legally put on the same level as the big boy commercial flights—with the same expensive regulatory and licensing requirements. The FAA knew that small services like Flytenow and AirPooler simply could not keep up with these requirements, and thus effectively shut them down. Flytenow valiantly challenged the FAA's capricious actions in court all the way up to the Supremes; but unfortunately, the Supreme Court declined to take up the case in January of this year, effectively upholding the lower courts' siding with the FAA. My Mercatus Center colleague Christopher Koopman recently released a study analyzing the sad saga of flight-sharing's destruction at the hands of the FAA. It is an amazing tale of regulatory overreach and targeted statutory interpretation that seems to have been undertaken for little reason beyond FAA antipathy to non-commercial cost-sharing arrangements. And unfortunately for all of us non-millionaires out there, this agency bias ultimately leaves the public bereft of an encouraging new development in transportation. To understand the current brouhaha surrounding the legal status of flight-sharing services, you have to know a little bit about the FAA's historical approach to non-commercial flights. Services like Flytenow and AirPooler are really only a new evolution of long-standing practices among amateur pilots. For around as long as small scale flight has existed, pilots would leave messages on airport bulletin boards advertising their upcoming flight plans. Other pilots who needed to get to the same destination could hitch a ride and help defray the cost of the unused seats. This kind of cost-sharing arrangement made the relatively expensive hobby of amateur flight a lot more reasonable for all parties involved, and was explicitly authorized in the federal code, albeit with a considerable set of limitations. Chief among these caveats was that flight-sharing pilots could not seek to profit from flights, but rather merely offset the costs. This was good enough for the pilots' needs, and the convention became a critical and fiercely defended element of private flight. Flytenow and AirPooler are merely digitized versions of this practice, which allow pilots and passengers[...]

Our Air Traffic Control System Is a Primitive Bureaucracy

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 00:01:00 -0400

Wonder why your flight is late? Why planes keep circling? Why even after you've landed, you sometimes can't deplane? Bad weather plays a role, but flying is also nastier because American airports use 50-year-old technology. This shouldn't surprise us. Government bureaucracies are always slow. That's as true on the tarmac as everywhere else. It's not Federal Aviation Administration workers' fault. They're just following the government rulebook that says you must not change something without getting permission first. You must not buy anything without going through cumbersome acquisitions regulations. The FAA's new NextGen system was designed to make the system more efficient by using satellites instead of ground-based radar. It would let planes fly closer to each other, speeding up everything. This technology has existed for two decades, but because of the bureaucracy, it's still being rolled out. "By the time the government gets the equipment, many times it's no longer state-of-the-art," complains Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. Outside government, progress happens. Uber replaces taxis because Uber is better and safer. Waze is better than paper maps. My laptop, on which I write this, is better than my typewriter. Outside government, people constantly invent better computers, phones, foods, music... Within government, people follow the old rules. So President Trump did the right thing when he said he wants to privatize air-traffic control. "Our air traffic control system is stuck, painfully, in the past," said the president. "Billions of tax dollars spent and the many years of delays, we're still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn't work." Trump is right. "Antiquated, horrible" are common descriptions of government monopolies everywhere. The usual crowd of statists condemned privatization. "Fees will go up, seat size will go down," complained Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). He reminds me of the senators who warned that natural gas prices would "skyrocket" if Ronald Reagan lifted price controls. The opposite happened—prices dropped. Deregulation brought private-sector competition. Competition made all of us better off. I wish Schumer understood that. The private plane industry worries about paying higher landing fees. But that'd probably be fair. We small plane users freeload off commercial aviation. Hundreds of passengers on a big jet sometimes wait for a Cessna to land. Everyone should pay user fees to cover costs we impose. Some resisters of change claim skies will become "chaos" because rival air-traffic control services won't talk to each other. This is absurd. Privatization is not a risky libertarian experiment. Canada privatized 20 years ago. There's no "chaos." There are fewer delays. Sixty countries now have forms of user-fee-supported air-traffic control. Some are developing ways for each plane to use computers to keep track of its proximity to other planes and change flight plans to avoid getting too close. "These countries already use advanced tracking and communications technology that our controllers can only dream about," says the Reason Foundation's Bob Poole. Poole has researched transportation alternatives for decades. He says, "Upgraded air traffic control technology would mean shorter lines for planes waiting to take off, more direct routes between cities and fewer delays for planes waiting to land. That would result in shorter trip times, less fuel used and fewer emissions." In the 1980s and '90s, both Democrats and Republicans talked about privatizing air-traffic control. But that stopped after Sept. 11, 2001. When people are scared, they want government in control. But government control means centralized control that avoids disaster by operating slowly, hyper-cautiously checking routes and runways one at a time instead [...]

Time to Get U.S. Air Traffic Control Out of the 1960s

Tue, 06 Jun 2017 02:00:00 -0400

"We live in a modern age and yet our air traffic control system is stuck painfully in the past," President Donald Trump said at a White House event announcing his plan to modernize America's aging air traffic control system. "The FAA has been trying to upgrade our nation's air traffic control system for a long period of years, but after billions and billions of tax dollars spent and many years of delays, we're still stuck with an ancient, broken, antiquated, horrible system that doesn't work." Trump is largely throwing his support behind Rep. Bill Shuster's (R-PA) air traffic control reform proposal. Shuster's bill, which passed a House committee last year but didn't make it to the House floor, would convert the air traffic system from today's taxpayer-funded organization run by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) into a self-funded, nonprofit corporation where all aviation stakeholders — passengers, airlines, airports, controllers, and pilots — would be represented on a board of directors. This concept has the bipartisan support of numerous former leaders of the FAA and Department of Transportation, as well as most major airlines, the air traffic controllers' union, and business groups. The Clinton administration pushed a similar plan in the 1990s. The current version grew out of the 2013 federal budget standoff and sequester, which saw furloughs of air traffic controllers and the near shut-down of 149 smaller air traffic control towers. This highlighted several flaws in the system, as more people recognized air traffic control is a fast-moving, high-tech service business that is a poor fit for a slow-moving government regulatory agency whose funding is subject to the political whims of Congress. The US air traffic system is the world's largest, but technologically it severely lags behind other countries that have already implemented digital messaging, GPS flight tracking, and newer alternatives to the 1960s-era systems still found in US air traffic facilities. "At a time when every passenger has GPS technology in their pockets, our air traffic control system still runs on radar and ground-based radio systems," Trump said. The world's second-largest air traffic system, Nav Canada, was "corporatized" 20 years ago. Over 60 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain, have self-supporting air traffic control corporations. This plan would shift air traffic control funding so that it is paid for, not by taxes, but by aircraft operators paying for the services received. A stream of user payments is more reliable than tax funding. It also enables air traffic corporations to issue long-term revenue bonds to pay for modernization projects, which is why countries like Canada and the UK are far ahead of the US. These countries already use advanced tracking and communications technology that our controllers can only dream about. Thanks to FAA's cumbersome budgeting and upgrade process, this technology will continue to be implemented in the US in dribs and drabs over the next 15 years. The proposal would also improve air traffic safety. Since 2001, international aviation law has called for arm's length separation between air safety regulators and the providers of air traffic services. Nearly all countries have made this change, but the United States has not. The FAA both provides air traffic services and regulates them. Finding and reporting problems requires the FAA to turn itself in — a clear, built-in conflict of interest. For pilots and passengers, better oversight and upgraded air traffic control technology would mean shorter lines for planes waiting to take off, more direct routes between cities, and fewer delays for planes waiting to land. That would result in shorter trip times, less f[...]

Taxes, Testosterone, and the Virtues of Overbooking [Reason Podcast]

Mon, 17 Apr 2017 19:30:00 -0400

The best way to solve the problem of too many people on an airplane is to "offer a price to get people to voluntarily give up a seat," says Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty. "But it only works really well if they keep raising the price until they get the volunteer."

On today's podcast, Doherty joins Nick Gillespie and Katherine Mangu-Ward to talk about why busting heads and not overbooking was to blame for last week's United Airlines crisis, the libertarian case for free trade and immigration, how to convince non-libertarians that one person's gain isn't necessarily another person's loss, Arkansas' legal fight to execute eight men, filing taxes, and the virtues of recreational testosterone.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

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How Protectionism Shields United Airlines From Competition

Thu, 13 Apr 2017 10:20:00 -0400

As Brian Doherty observed here yesterday, the United Airlines outrage does not require new laws, though that is certainly news to microphone-hogging pols like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. In fact, let's round up some of the opportunistic political responses, shall we? * Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois): her bill "will end the practice of involuntarily 'bumping' passengers from oversold aircrafts once and for all. If an airline chooses to oversell a flight, or has to accommodate their crew on a fully booked flight, it is their responsibility to keep raising their offer until a customer chooses to give up their seat." Schakowsky said her legislation also will require that any dickering over how much a passenger will get for voluntarily relinquishing a seat is "carried out before they board the aircraft. These fixes would prevent the situation we saw on video from ever happening again." * Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland): he is readying legislation to prohibit airlines from forcibly removing passengers due to overbooking or to free up seats for crew. The Maryland Democrat released a letter to colleagues seeking sponsors for what he has called the "Customers Not Cargo Act." There is another way, I argue in today's L.A. Times. If lawmakers really want United to feel the lash, they should remove the politically motivated protectionism that blocks foreign competitors from driving customer-unfriendly American airline behemoths out of business. Excerpt: Foreign companies and individuals—think Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic Airways—are forbidden by U.S. law from owning more than 25% of a domestic airline. That's why Virgin America could be sold last year to Alaska Airlines over the express wishes of Virgin's famous founder: He just didn't have enough votes. The differently headquartered are banned outright from servicing routes between two American cities, a practice with the sinister-sounding name of cabotage. And carriers from Singapore to the Gulf States are not only barred from competition, but subject to sneering taunts by American legacies from behind the protectionist firewall, such as when United CEO Oscar Munoz this March said that companies including the well-regarded Emirates "aren't real airlines." What on Earth justifies such pre-Trump xenophobic mercantilism in our increasingly globalized world? According to North America's Air Line Pilots Assn.: "These regulations ensure the national security of our country and the integrity of our airline industry." Or translated into honest-ese, "These regulations ensure the job security of unionized U.S. nationals and the continued existence of poorly run U.S. airlines." Read the whole thing here.[...]

The United Airlines Incident Does Not Require New Laws, Despite What Chris Christie Says. It Could Have Been Resolved by Intelligent Use of Markets.

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

Predictably, America's least popular governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey, approaches the national conversation generated by Chicago aviation police beating up and dragging Dr. David Dao off a United Airlines flight on Sunday by demanding more legal action. Christie, a Republican, is calling for quick federal action to ban the process of "overbooking," that is, selling more seats on an airplane than there are physically available. As a post here explained the other day, a libertarian-leaning economist, the late Julian Simon, invented and policy-entrepreneured into existence a wonderful price-system, free-market model for solving the problem of overbooking. Here's how it usually works: the airline starts offering monetary incentives (could be flight vouchers or cash or other considerations) to get enough customers to voluntarily give up their seat, increasing the offered price until the market for seats has cleared, that is, you've found enough people to give up the seat they paid for. That way everyone is happy, either with their seat or with payment that the person considers sufficient to make up for losing the seat. My criticisms of United and the police in this incident are not based on general hostility to overbooking, which both makes great economic sense for the airlines, almost certainly makes ticket prices less than they otherwise would be for customers, and creates win-win scenarios for airlines and passengers when the airline is smart enough to actually carry through the Simon policy to a market-clearing result. In the case of this United flight from which Dao was violently ejected, by all accounts United tried two rounds of offers, and after $800 decided to start busting heads. There is zero reason to believe that quick increases in the price offered to voluntarily abandon your seat would not have resolved this situation far more quickly and justly than calling the cops on Dao. (And, almost certainly after all the dings in the market and possibly the courts ahead for United, it all would have been far less costly for United as well.) Free market types are understandably attracted to explanations for seemingly idiotic or perverse behavior on the part of companies that blame government. In the conversation surrounding this United debacle, I've seen many people excited about a Department of Transportation regulation that sets a cap on the airlines legal obligation to pay off those bumped from an overbooked flight: Compensation shall be 400% of the fare to the passenger's destination or first stopover, with a maximum of $1,350, if the carrier does not offer alternate transportation that, at the time the arrangement is made, is planned to arrive at the airport of the passenger's first stopover, or if none, the airport of the passenger's final destination less than two hours after the planned arrival time of the passenger's original flight. But that has no application to United's bad decisions in the case of Dao's abuse. (Remember, the police's equally bad decisions were triggered by United's bad decision; while the cops should have been more curious about why they were asked to commit violence against Dao, they did so because the airline decided to treat him as an intruder on their property for no good reason, when what he was was a paying customer.) First, by all reports United didn't even reach their regulatory obligation to offer as much as $1,350 as an incentive. (I am discounting as extremely unlikely any possibility that no one on that plane paid more than $200 for a seat, though if that were so they would have met the obligation by offering 400 percent of that.) Second, despite how some want to interpret it, nothing in that regulation says it is illegal t[...]

Victim in United Flight Debacle Gets Smear Treatment

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 15:00:00 -0400

You would think that an elderly doctor (69 years old!) being filmed getting dragged by police off a United airplane in order to make room for the airline employees would be immune to the "He's no angel" defense of government violence. You would be wrong, though, and underestimating the willingness of media outlets to publish anything that has the potential to get them attention, even negative attention. Everybody's got a past that can be used against them. It has become a common practice that when a citizen has a very public, highly publicized encounter with law enforcement, his or her criminal background very quickly ends up in the hands of local media outlets. Sometimes it's relevant. If a criminal suspect gets wounded or killed in a confrontation with police, a history of convictions for violent crimes helps put it in context. It doesn't inherently mean the police's behavior was justified in any particular instance, but it is important information. And the public should know. But sometimes it's clearly an attempt to make the person subjected to police aggression look guilty in the eyes of the public and shield the authorities from criticism for bad behavior. All of that is to say the Courier-Journal in Kentucky got its hands on the criminal and licensing background of the guy that got forcibly yanked (and injured) by Chicago police off that United flight, and it turns out this David Dao fellow did some bad things, more than a decade ago. But they've decided to dredge it up anyway: Dao, who went to medical school in Vietnam in the 1970s before moving to the U.S., was working as a pulmonologist in Elizabethtown when he was arrested in 2003 and eventually convicted of drug-related offenses after an undercover investigation, according to documents filed with the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure last June. The documents allege that he was involved in fraudulent prescriptions for controlled substances and was sexually involved with a patient who used to work for his practice and assisted police in building a case against him. Dao was convicted of multiple felony counts of obtaining drugs by fraud or deceit in November 2004 and was placed on five years of supervised probation in January 2005. He surrendered his medical license the next month. The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure permitted Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015 under certain conditions. None of this provides any contextual information useful to understanding Dao's refusal to comply with United. It's a smear. There's no reason to believe any of it is not true, but it is not journalism that provides any actually useful context about Dao. They can't even say he was misleading the airline when he said he had patients to treat as an explanation for his refusal to disembark "voluntarily." The newspaper is being absolutely blasted on both their website and on Twitter for running with this story. There are maybe one or two people who defend the publishing and the idea that Dao should have complied and think his criminal background is in any way related. A poll asking whether the Courier-Journal should have published this story would likely lead to a very lopsided result telling the paper they made the wrong choice here. I did not see anywhere in these tweets or comments anybody saying the newspaper shouldn't be allowed to have published this information, which is good. This is a perfect example of using "more speech" to counter "bad speech." The media outlet arguably made a poor choice in what information to publish and is being publicly criticized for doing so. It would not surprise me if the editor there was being inundated with angry phone calls. Nevertheless, though there is n[...]