Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on Newstalk 600 KTBB, Friday, Apr. 18, 2008.
I have just returned from the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. When I arrived Saturday afternoon and went to the convention center to get my badge and convention materials, one of the stories on the floor was the fact that exhibitors and exhibit materials that should have arrived days before were late on account of the grounding last week of American Airlines’ entire fleet of MD-80 aircraft.
I heard this after having myself canceled two meetings on Friday of last week for the very same reason.
American Airlines has approximately 300 MD-80 aircraft in their fleet. The airplane is the workhorse of their domestic operation.
I am a pilot. I hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, the highest class of pilot license that you can get. I got much of my early flight training in the training department of the old Braniff International. My instructor was a Braniff training department pilot and I am, therefore, pretty familiar with airline operations.
I am also an aircraft owner. My airplane, like those of the airlines, must be maintained according to a set of rules set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration. The basic structure of those rules applies to every airplane in the sky.
I do not have specific knowledge of what happened in the American Airlines fiasco but I have a pretty good idea based on the news coverage and my knowledge of aircraft.
The issue with American’s MD-80s was a determination that certain wiring bundles that pass through the nose gear wheel well were tied off at one and a quarter inch intervals and needed to be tied off at one inch intervals. I’m sure an Airworthiness Directive was issued to this effect.
Airworthiness Directives, or ADs, are issued on airplanes every day. They are typically issued because operating experience with the aircraft type reveals a potential problem. In all but the most extreme cases, ADs come with a reasonable time for compliance. The last one that I received on my airplane said within 100 hours of operation or at the next scheduled inspection, whichever comes first.
I am certain that there was no reason to pull American’s entire fleet of MD-80s out of service. If the wiring bundles needed to be re-made with shorter intervals between bundle ties, it could have been done on an orderly basis.
What is clear is that the FAA, a government agency, acted like a government agency. The FAA has egg on its face because it came out recently that the inspector assigned to Southwest Airlines had become too chummy with the company he was assigned to monitor and he let them slide on a bunch of aircraft fuselage inspections.
So they overreacted and initiated this fiasco at American. But here’s the question. If 300 airliners were unsafe to operate, how come the FAA didn’t notice until last week? And why did Southwest Airlines slide for so long?
The American Airlines MD-80 fiasco affected upwards of 300,000 passengers and Lord only knows how many thousands of others who were waiting on convention materials and canceling meetings and going on with the wedding without Uncle Bob and Aunt Shirley being there.
The FAA is a relatively small agency. So do this. Take that small agency and its rather narrow mission and project it onto one-seventh of the U.S. economy. I’m talking about health care.
The FAA, small as it is and narrowly focused as it is, has nonetheless revealed itself to be inept.
Imagine such ineptitude multiplied by several orders of magnitude and visited upon every single American wishing to gain access to health care. In this recent American Airlines episode, the FAA acted without any regard whatsoever to the impact of their decisions on us, the very people they are supposed to serve. Imagine that same indifference with respect to taking care of your health.
The problem with government at all levels is that it has no competition. You can’t take your business elsewhere. But competition serves us well. That’s why, for all the complaining about what it costs, Americans still have the best health care in the world. Be very afraid Hillary Care or Obama Care. They want to sell you a health care plan that is run by the same government that can’t monitor a fleet of 300 airplanes.