Monday, September 28, 2009
Last week Friday, Glenn Tilton, Chairman and CEO of United Airlines and current Chair of the Air Transport Association, addressed the 2009 Annual Meeting of the ABA Forum on Air & Space Law. See Glenn Tilton, Remarks to the ABA Forum on Air & Space Law, Chicago, IL (Sept. 25, 2009) (available here).
Tilton's speech focused on the inertia of U.S. lawmakers to craft a sustainable aviation policy--one which would open up the industry to foreign investment and modernize its infrastructure. Tilton criticized recent U.S. strides toward protectionism for the airlines by asking, "What are we protecting it from? Growth? Profitability? New jobs? Global competitiveness? These are protections we can do without."
Almost all of the points made in Tilton's speech will be familiar to those who have followed the struggles of the U.S. airline industry to survive and thrive under a suboptimal regulatory regime. "Familiar" doesn't mean "unimportant," however. Industry leaders have been pressing the U.S. to move toward authentic air transport liberalization for years, but to no avail. In a 2006 speech to a conference co-hosted by the International Aviation Law Institute (IALI), Tilton suggested that the Department of Transportation conduct a formal aviation policy review to bring the U.S. regulatory regime in line with a globalized world. See IALI & Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Sustainable Aviation Policies for America and the World, at 6, Synopsis of the Proceedings (Oct. 2006) (available here). Despite the need for new thinking concerning U.S. policy in this area, the DOT still relies on a statement issued 14 years ago. See 60 Fed. Reg. 21,841 (May 3, 1995).
What will it take for lawmakers in the U.S. to wake up to the turbulent times the airline industry finds itself in and make meaningful steps toward enacting progressive legislation which will give them the freedom to operate like any other global industry? Hopefully, Tilton's remarks won't fall on deaf ears this time.