Plane Common Sense

by Don Boudreaux on April 10, 2011

in Competition, Regulation, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen, Travel

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

William McGee argues that F.A.A. budget cuts will make airline travel excessively dangerous (“Forcing the F.A.A. to Fly Blind,” April 10).  The only evidence he musters for this claim is the obvious fact that airlines prefer to pay lower prices, rather than higher prices, for inspections and maintenance of their planes.

Contrary to Mr. McGee’s presumption, however, this fact doesn’t remotely mean that airlines operate safe fleets only because the F.A.A. forces them to do so.  No one has stronger incentives to keep multimillion dollar airplanes from crashing in flames than do the airlines themselves.  It’s naïve to suppose that a privately owned airline will put its billions of dollars of investments in aircraft, ground equipment, pilot training, and reputation for safety at undue risk simply to save a few dollars.

Of course, it’s possible that the F.A.A. compels airlines to supply more air-travel safety than the public would willingly pay for without government regulation.  But if THIS is the case, the resulting higher costs of flying (safety, after all, isn’t free) might divert enough travelers into automobiles that the total fatality rate of traveling is higher than it would be with less strict F.A.A. regulations.

Either way, count me as one frequent flyer who isn’t in the least worried about F.A.A. budget cuts.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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