Carpe Diem

June 8, 1999

Carpe Diem

The core question is this: How can Congress direct aviation's future without clear, uniform industry input?

BY J.E. Murdock III, Partner, Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge

June 1999

J.E. "Sandy" Murdock serves as a partner in the Aviation Law Group of Shaw, Pittman, Potts & Trowbridge, based in Washing-ton, D.C. A specialist in regulatory aviation affairs, he is the former chief counsel for FAA.

As the decade of the 1990s comes to a close, there are a lot of exogenous variables (the economy, oil prices, security threats in the Middle East and Europe, etc.) that can be very threatening to all aspects of aviation. One of these concerns must be the Congress of the United States and what it will (probably will not) do this year or next in defining the rules by which general aviation, airlines, manufacturers, pilots, repair stations, etc., operate.

If the member who holds the pen for such legislation has particularly myopic vision, we could see ...
• an Air Traffic Control system that is underfunded (perhaps further short of capital);
• an FAA that is falling behind in its agenda and loses the global initiative to the rest of the world;
• gridlock in aviation because of real limits on runways; or
... a whole host of other horribles that are unthinkable to those of us who earn our livings from aviation.

The Washington Impasse
Conventional wisdom places the Congressional process in the same category as weather — it is very easy to complain about the situation, but it is almost impossible to do anything about it. The analogy is quite apt: The Administration and the Congress are far distant from the reality that is aviation. They tend to listen to ad hoc consumer horror stories from constituents and try to take that data as a basis for defining general solutions. They listen to self-nominated safety experts who seem to be omniscient and adopt their unproven solutions to complex FAA systems or engineering issues. (The gods don't seem to listen to mere mortals, so why bother?)

Yet, the situation is not that dire — our Senators and Congresspersons want to hear from our industry. The problem is that they get conflicting advice from each segment of the business:
• labor has its answers;
• the ATA reports its solutions to the problems but every so often one of its airline members goes directly to Congress (Why can't we suspend the First Amendment?) and suggests the opposite is true;
• NBAA has its agenda, but AOPA, NATA, GAMA, EAA, NASAO, and all the others in this segment of the industry have certain truths on which they all agree, but each must have its slight variations on those themes.
• AAAE and ACI-NA agree on a lot, but their views are from a very different perspective.

Ah, Excuse Me, Mr. Senator ...
For the moment, assume that you are a Senator, Congressperson, or, more likely, her/his staff member trying to fathom what the aviation industry wants from the current pattern of positions that more resemble a scattergram. There is virtually no industry consensus on any of the major issues that aviation is presently facing , and there are a lot :
• PFCs,
• user fees,
• slots at the high-density airports,
• taking the Trust Fund off budget,
• consumer protection rules,
• hub concentration issues,
• competition,
• contract towers,
• ATC modernization; and, on and on and on.

Under these contentious circumstances, it's not surprising that the Hill is not anxious to write the definitive law on aviation. For the past 18 months or so, after several short-term extensions of the FAA's authorizing statute, it has become abundantly clear that Congress will do little to resolve these critical issues — without some clear consensus.

This is the moment to capture
These observations are the predicate for the headine of this essay: Carpe Diem (seize the day). The leadership of the aviation industry — the Carols and Jacks and Jims and Eds and Davids and Chips, who represent their segments of this fantastic business, must seize this opportunity. Their charge, however, is not to see that the interests of each segment maximizes its advantages in the political fray; that task is traditionally why the airlines and unions and States and unions and GA pilots and manufacturers and all other interests have paid them the big bucks as their Washington representatives.

They have been very successful in these micro-strategies. Now, however, they need to get some new orders from their constituencies.

It is time that we as an industry try to optimize the benefits for the industry as a single entity. It is no longer prudent for GA to think "zero sum" games when it devises its strategy on user fees. The multi-faceted airline industry needs to take a far more macro look at its real long-term agenda. (Are PFCs really all that bad?) Unions, airports, manufacturers, States, etc., must try to think out-of-the-box and recognize that a compromise of some "need" may allow another segment to capture some truly important goal.

The leaders mentioned herein are capable of such vision. They are also realists and know that without support from their members they will be fired as quickly as they were hired. So Carpe Diem applies to each of us in the industry.

Call/write/email your favorite aviation association executive and tell her/him to expand their statesmanship (statespersonship) capacity. Tell them that you want to look to the long-term interests of all segments of aviation. That, in the long term, a healthy, cooperative aviation business will be the most successful approach.

Yea, on dark nights when you are at home alone, you harbor evil thoughts about your competitor, but later you realize that most rules that target your competitor require little adjustments to harm you.

Aviation has almost reached 100 years of recorded history. We, as an industry, need to keep that long-term, broad-based perspective in mind as we move into the year 2000. Myopic approaches will not result in long-term optimization. We must allow our leaders to take the macro road to tomorrow and minimize their micro-perspectives. Give them a call and let them know that you want him/her to take such a position.