Friday, August 16, 2013

The ongoing airplane debate

It has been a long time since we have had a blog discussion and I have to admit that I am enjoying this one a lot.  So, where Mark P and I agree is that cars are clearly the lowest hanging fruit and the clarification in the last round makes it clear we are in fundamental agreement on this point.

Where we may disagree is that I think some small policy changes in air travel could yield important reductions.  The lack of alternatives may make this less likely than one would think (and TSA is quite good at ensuring air travel doesn't become too convenient) but I think there are two telling examples.

The first was the sequester and the special treatment air traffic controllers got relative to other public services.  After all, we had no trouble cutting assistance to Americans with inadequate food, rationing access to cancer care for Medicare patients, or to biomedical research.  Was this really the impact of the sequester (increased cost of air travel) that was the most pressing relative to the other items on this list?  The one area of true bipartisan agreement>

The second was blocking the merger of two airlines, one of which was bankrupt and the other was not far behind.  This could have led to higher prices, true, but in an industry where profits have been eaten to nearly zero was this really the biggest disaster possible?  That airlines might have enough money to not have to make brutal pension cuts due to financial distress (see this for the pension woes of American, one of the two airlines involved in the blocked merger)? 

So I guess my issue is not that we should focus on airlines as the lowest hanging fruit but rather that we should stop actively intervening to increase airplane consumption.  Now I live 4,000 miles from family and plane trips are already costly.  I definitely remember childhood trips to visits the grand-parents being 3 long days in the car.  I am not eager to replicate those days.  But I am also worried about carbon emissions.

Maybe if planes were properly priced we could get the political will to adopt 1980's era train technology as an option for shorter trips?  At 186 mph, no TSA, and fast boarding, there is no reason that you could make the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles way more carbon friendly. 

No comments:

Post a Comment