Monday, December 22, 2008
Last Friday, President-elect Barack Obama named Illinois Republican Congressman Ray LaHood to head the U.S. Department of Transportation. LaHood has been characterized "as a pragmatist" with a "determination to get things done while not getting bogged down in ideology." The Air Transport Association, in a prepared statement, noted that LaHood "has a well-deserved reputation for his even-handed, thoughtful and deliberative approach to complex issues" and that it "look[s] forward to working closely with Secretary LaHood on critical issues affecting airlines, their customers and the nation, most importantly revitalization of the aviation infrastructure, prudent and equitable action on the reauthorization of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and how to best utilize the airlines’ potential to generate the economic growth that the Obama administration is intent on developing."
Revitalization of aviation infrastructure should be at the top of an ever-growing list of U.S. air transport policy objectives. With the nation feeling the brunt of Winter storm weather and increased travel for the holidays, the delays caused by an antiquated air traffic control system are ever more acute. A fundamental overhaul of the system will go much further to alleviating the problem of major delays than the poorly-conceived "passenger rights" legislation New York attempted to put into effect earlier this year and which the Second Circuit wisely struck down. A "Passenger Bill of Rights" packed full of penalties for delays and cancellations--still touted by some at the federal level--would only add cumbersome costs to the airlines, costs which will inevitably be passed onto cash-strapped consumers. If confirmed, hopefully Secretary LaHood will quickly apply a necessary tranche of Obama's rumored $600 billion stimulus package to this serious problem.
Two blog commentaries from The Economist on President-elect Barack Obama's economic team nominees-- Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor and Ron Kirk for U.S. Trade Representative--are less than enthusiastic (see here and here). Why? Both are under a heavy cloud of suspicion that they will put protectionism for labor before free trade policies which will offer much broader benefits. Will this concern for the few over the interests of the many spill over into the new administration's aeropolitical relations as well? Given labor's consistent stance against progressive liberalization of foreign investment and cabotage rights, this pro-labor mentality could prove to be a dark omen for the ongoing air transport negotiations between the United States and European Union.