Two things you can count on seeing pop up on a regular basis are the Cherry Blossoms around Washington’s Tidal Basin and federal aviation commissions.
I took Friday off, in part to take my annual walk around the tidal basin with my wife. It’s something we’ve done many of our 28 years of marriage and every year it just seems more spectacular. If you’ve never seen the Cherry Blossoms on a nice spring day in Washington you need to do it.
Coming along almost as often, it seems, are federal blue ribbon commissions charged with figuring out what’s wrong with the aviation industry.
Oftentimes these commissions are focused on particular issues. But every now and then, there is a commission enpaneled that is charged with looking at the whole picture.
The latest installment is the commission established by Secretary Ray LaHood and formally announced Friday in the Federal Register at about the same time my wife and I were walking around the tidal basin. The members will be announced in the next few weeks.
I have a particular interest in this, and not just because I a president of the association that represents airports. I am also interested because the last time there was a commission with such a comprehensive mandate was in 1993, and I was its executive director and also was the primary author of its report.
When we got started, we went into the archives and found out that Presidents Truman, Nixon and Ford also had such commissions. It was also predicted to me at the time that ours would not be the last.
Things were a little different in 1993. There was a much greater sense of urgency. We only had 90 days and most of our meetings were carried on C-SPAN. For those 3 months, I was the most popular guy on the Washington aviation scene. Commissioners were much sought after, and many had to put their day jobs on hold since we met so often.
Most thought we would recommend tax breaks or loan guarantees to help the airlines and manufacturers. We didn’t. In the end our major recommendation was to modernize air traffic control. A lot of people were less than impressed with that recommendation — especially including airlines and general aviation interests.
In the end, the dire economic circumstances that led to our creation (failure of Eastern, Pan Am, Branniff and, shortly after, McDonnell Douglas especially) were easing up by the time we finished. As many of our recommendations, like modernizing air traffic control, had longer term time frames, there somehow seemed less urgency, though the quality of the recommendations was widely recognized (and is widely recognized today).
I am hopeful that this time might be somewhat different. The crisis doesn’t seem as immediate now and it is hard to imagine these meetings will all be on C-SPAN. This commission will have a year to complete its work, too long in my view, but perhaps that will lead to more of a sense that they are setting a long term course for the industry to follow.
Some of the staff who are putting this together have been nice enough to call and pick my brain. I dug out some of the old files, which brought back some good memories. I wish Secretary LaHood’s commission well, and will do all I can to help. And I hope that, unlike the Cherry Blossoms, there will need to be no further federal commissions to figure out what’s wrong with the aviation industry.