Monday Insight – September 12, 2022

Before We Start:
Remembering 9/11
Let’s Do It Honestly, Without Political Correctness…

It’s now 21 years. Naturally, time to remember those who lost their lives that day, and the possibly thousands more first responders who lost their health.

But what is very troubling is that nobody seems to care about remembering what allowed this to take place. Nobody in the veneer media sunshine coverage dares to discuss the outrage of what made 9/11 possible, and how there was zero follow-up with the incompetents who were in charge of aviation security before 9/11. The official media position is that all has been fixed. Which, based on events over the past 20 years, is a blatant, provable lie. This denigrates the value of the lives lost that morning.

In point of fact, most of the media has flat ignored these facts:

  • That the FAA security heads were warned by FAA Red Team investigators of the potential for multiple hijackings at Boston Logan four months before 9/11;
  • That prior to 9/11, Red Team FAA security inspectors were repeatedly hampered by FAA management in attempting to test security checkpoints.
  • That there was major push-back when Red Team investigators proposed changes;
  • That after 9/11 – mere days when the wreckage was still smoldering in New York, Washington and rural Pennsylvania and the bodies of 3,000 terrorist victims were still being found, George W. Bush publicly thanked the FAA for their “hard work.”
  • That after the biggest security failure since Pearl Harbor, not one single individual in positions of responsibility was reprimanded. To the contrary, most were promoted. The people who had warned about 9/11 were tossed out. Or worse. One of the pre-9/11 whistle-blowers was literally followed around and hounded by the FAA, reduced to putting binders together and his career ruined.

Yes, we now have a gigantic Transportation Security Administration. In fact, it was mostly started by a lot of the same people responsible for the security failures of 9/11. The open question is whether we fixed the political cesspool that allowed 9/11 in the first place.

One talking head network correspondent – a total toady for whatever the TSA feeds him – once pronounced that the success of the TSA is proven by the fact we haven’t had another major terrorist attack.

He could have made the same point on 9/10/01, too.


The USA Airport System In The Crosshairs:
DOT Still Planning For The 1970s

Bottom Line: The USA airport system – arguably the best in the world, and on which billions have been spent – is now in line for operational and economic decline.

Policies Intentionally Ignoring New Aviation Dynamics. The value of the USA airport system is predicated on how it will evolve to accommodate aviation’s new channels of communication. That requires futurist thinking and strong leadership. Unfortunately both of these imperatives have deteriorated into obsolete policies that bear little resemblance to the needs and the new dynamics of aviation.

Monkey Wrench Approaches In A Digital World. Let’s cut to the politically-incorrect bottom line. In a future global economy, where changes in consumer patterns, demographic migrations and new logistics channels are emerging, the DOT is still geared to pursuing metrics that are based on the past, wasting taxpayer dollars, misleading communities, pandering to misguided special interests, and tossing dollars at programs that are in many cases the equivalent of buying vacuum tubes for a nation already using flat screen TV sets.

The Master Plan System. Let’s start with this. The FAA requirements for each airport to have a Master Plan is at its core very a solid way of monitoring and administering the airport system. From that perspective, it is a sound concept.

The problem is that many of the metrics demanded in Master Plans simply do not make any sense for today’s system of smaller airports. Nor does the current approach even begin to contemplate major shifts in technology that will affect the value of the airport system. The assumption is that the aviation industry today is the same as in 1960.

By and large, the current approach fails to recognize shifts in how airports are utilized and by what modalities of aviation. The requirement to be within “ X% “of the FAA’s Terminal Area Forecast, for example, is increasingly nonsense because the TAF methodology is on another planet from aviation reality.

Obsolete Air Service Incentive Programs. One of the most obvious failures of the current system is the assumption that commercial air service is akin to what rail access was in the 1870s.

Back then, if the railroad skipped the town, the likelihood was that the community was economically dead. That’s still the basis of the policy thinking in regard to small community air service. It’s bogus and wastes millions annually supporting flights consumers find inferior to other options.

The difference is that today, consumers have a vibrant road system that – even if the local small airport has scheduled flights – they often have other, far more viable options at other airports. Yet this dynamic – superior competitive consumer options – is almost never (no, let’s be clear: never) considered.

It’s the same with the objectives of today’s EAS and Small Community  Air Service Development Grant programs. Both assume that having service at the local airport is paramount to economic growth, which is nonsense. The key is having air service access to and from the rest of the globe.

Today, the structure of the air transportation system has evolved to the point that the DOT cannot even meet its own requirements. Witness the award of EAS to Eau Claire… At the end of the day, there were no applications that met the department’s service requirements. So, Sun Country Airlines with day-of-week service to a couple of leisure destinations got the award. That is great for Sun Country, and gives Eau Claire another discretionary spend item. But it doesn’t do diddly to connect EAU to the world. Those consumers – I.e., ones that need to get to or from the rest of the world – are on the highway to MSP. Most of the people boarding the SY flights are net-new travelers faced with a high-value leisure product.

Then there’s the Small Community Air Service Development Grant Program. While it is a fact that the program has been beneficial in a number of cases, it has also started to run out of viable applications. The latest example is Avelo entering Binghamton, presumably to take advantage of a recent SCASD grant. It will offer two flights a week to two Florida destinations. Great for Avelo, and another spend alternative for Broome County. but learly, this is not consistent with the alleged need to get Binghamton re-connected with the air transportation.

The Fix Will Threaten A Whole Set of Entrenched Rice Bowls. Fixing this means taking a lot of entrenched interests. Some don’t want the hear the truth. Others want to cover it up to keep their sugar-daddy programs flowing.

The DOT. To be clear, the folks at the DOT are essentially captive to the current system, and are doing what they can do, within the guidelines and policies they are directed to follow.

Any major moves to revise EAS or other mechanisms that may affect service in the district of Representative Ira T. Snortbluster will lead to very complicated interactions. Unfortunately, since the people at the top of the DOT are political appointees – usually the ones at the very top with zero expertise in transportation – it’s politics that win the day. And viable air access planning loses.

Community Civic Leaders. Take a look at some of the media stories regarding loss of scheduled service at a number of small airports in the last six months, It is understandable that Hizonner the Mayor has an out-of-body episode. It’s not strange that the city council and the CofC get up in arms when a carrier leaves town.

The issue here is that these folks often are not well-informed on the economics of air service, and as a result tend to hit the civic warpath to get it back, instead of first analyzing the situation and the future. They tend to just want action to get those flights back. Even if it wasn’t being used much. Even if there are no airlines – network, ULCC or third-tier – interested.

The starting point assumption is that there are “other airlines” that they can approach for service. Skyhook Airlines, usually. Taking advantage of this is the key goal of the Pied Piper contingent, noted below. Make very sure that the facts are at least muddled, if not covered up completely.

The core needs here for the civic sector are a) educate regarding air service economics, and b) full understanding of air access alternatives that local consumers have at hand, and c) the integrity of pursuing options that may not entail scheduled service at the local airport.

The Pied Piper Contingent. We need not list the communities which over the years have been regaled with enough “market studies” or “leakage analyses” or bogus “catchment area” analyses to over-fill the entire fiction section at Barnes & Noble. All promising to find an air service cure.

A fundamental part of this is to assure the community that they’ve really delivered the air service bacon for other clients. A recent one is to claim being instrumental in Southwest entering new markets in 2020. A call to the airline might reveal that the 18 new markets WN entered were mainly the result of internal corporate strategies, and not the latest 60-page market study emailed into the planning department.

Economic Development Commissions. Traditionally, as far as traditional EDC-related business goes, what happens at the local airport stays at the local airport. But the fact is that in the new global logistics economy, and within the anti-business dynamics taking place in some regions of the nation, airports represent huge future opportunities for economic growth.

The point here is that the USA needs a complete re-think of airport and aviation policies to take advantage of the future. There are dozens of futurist airports run by futurist administrations. The problem is that the regulatory framework and Luddite political thinking inside the Beltway has them blocked.

Maybe it’s time to call it like it is.

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