Dear Mr. President Elect, here’s one traveler’s New Year’s wishes

by Ned Levi on December 30, 2008

Mr. President Elect, like most Americans, I’m looking forward to a fresh start for our country. I have some suggestions which will fit nicely into your economic recovery plan, and will help travelers and the travel industry immensely. I have others which will improve travel safety and fairness, with little cost to taxpayers.

Mr. President Elect, you want to put Americans back to work, so here are major construction and other projects which will employ many, and dramatically improve air transportation in this country to boot.

Our Air Traffic Control System (ATCS) is a World War II-era air traffic network with technology out of the 60′s, when you were just a toddler. We need the new GPS based ATCS Congress and the FAA have discussed for the last decade. We need it to be in operation much earlier than twenty years from now, which it is the current projection. In the scheme of your $1 trillion recovery package, its cost of $35 billion isn’t much.

What’s really interesting about the new GPS ATCS, beyond employment to build it, is it will make air travel in this country much safer, faster, will save billions in annual domestic airline fuel costs, and will substantially reduce air traffic air pollution and its effect on global warming. This would be a huge “green” investment.

It’s a “no brainer,” Mr. President Elect.

In addition to the GPS ATCS we need a major investment in airport infrastructure at some of our major airports, such as Philadelphia International and Portland International. There are airports in the country which are in serious need of new and expanded runways and taxiways to handle future air traffic and aircraft. These investments in airport infrastructure are also “green,” as they will reduce aircraft holding times in the air and on the ground, saving fuel and the environment. These are also improvements which will substantially help airport safety.

For land travel we need only look to Europe to see the efficacy of commuter train and light rail travel in metropolitan areas, and intercity high speed rail travel, with speeds approaching 200 mph and beyond. To start, funding Amtrak so it can build a Florida to Boston TGV type line seems a sensible investment as part of your recovery package. While this project could easily cost $70 billion, it would be another “green” investment, paying dividends by substantially reducing auto and air travel pollution, and reducing air traffic congestion along the heavily trafficked East Coast. A San Diego to Seattle train would make a great deal of sense too.

Investing in metropolitan area train and light rail travel should be a part of your recovery plan too. Again this is a “green” investment for our future, and it will put many Americans back to work, now and in the future.

Every gallon of fuel the country doesn’t import, improves our balance of payments, air quality, and national security. These investments would not only put substantial numbers of Americans to work, they would improve the environment and help increase national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil imports from countries who don’t have our well being at heart.

We also need to improve the fairness of our commercial aviation industry to its passengers, and improve the safety of passengers on cruise ships.

It’s clear, Mr. President Elect, that the FAA and the airline industry, based on this years’ failure of the federal task force directed to determine how to assist passengers delayed for hours aboard planes, that legislation is needed to require the airlines provide for the basic human needs of airline passengers under various conditions.

It’s also clear to me that the proposed Air Service Improvement Act of 2008, still stuck in committee is not adequate, since it doesn’t address FAA rules and regulations which would make following that legislation unnecessarily expensive. Pilot work rules, airport queue procedures and many other rules and regulations need to be part of a comprehensive overhaul of FAA rules and regulations which needs to be addressed by legislation you propose.

Over the summer, while you were running for office, John Kerry introduced the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2008. It’s not a bad start for improving cruise passenger safety, but unfortunately, it’s only a start.  Some parts of the rules in the Act are unnecessary and unproductive, such as the proposed railing requirements, and other parts, such as the overboard detection system requirements, remain problematic because they are ill defined and need more research. Other portions, such as crime reporting are excellent.

Mr. President Elect, in Pennsylvania it’s illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to a person who is visibly or obviously intoxicated. It’s a good law. Those who serve intoxicated people are held responsible for their actions while drunk. I have seen cruise ships serve obviously drunk people often. I have seen cruise passengers stagger down ships’ halls and decks. If we really want to make cruise ships safer, the cruise lines must be held responsible for continuing to serve intoxicated people more liquor. This Act needs to include such a provision.

Mr. President Elect, we need you to get behind a more comprehensive and effective law for cruise safety and security, and while you’re at it, the same regulations concerning the sale of alcohol on cruise ships should be put in force on airplanes too.

Thank you Mr. President Elect.

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  • The man who notices things

    Ned, you are clueless about GPS based air navigation. There is NO reason, other than the cost of duplicate certified installations, that the airlines could not have GPS installed and operating in their aircraft right now.

    In fact, many general aviation aircraft use GPS right now, every day, to navigate and perform instrument approaches. Those of us who operate general aviation aircraft today PAID for the systems we installed ourselves. I had no federal taxpayer aid or fees to install my system. I paid for it myself.

    The airlines could be using this GPS system tomorrow if they made the investment. Obviously the cost of the system installations are not higher than the cost of the delays they incur. It is a financial decision and the airlines have simply made the decision to beg the feds, holding the passengers hostage, for money to upgrade their planes.

    When I flew from Connecticut to South Carolina I flew on radio identified airways through the complex northeast airspace [which will not be helped by GPS given the level of traffic] until I got to Salisbury MD at which time I flew direct to my destination using GPS, a distance of about 400 miles.

    But you commenters need to understand that the GPS signal is free and available right today for everyone. The airlines could use it tomorrow if they bought the equipment. They choose NOT to buy the equipment but instead beg the taxpayer to buy it for them under the guise of ‘reducing delays.’ What BS.

    The problem for airline delays is not airspace. It is ground space, runways and taxiways. They are not building new airports and even if they build new runways, like at Atlanta, they are not building new terminal space, so the airliners get crowded ultimately into the same gate area, Delays are caused by lack of tarmac, not lack of airspace.

  • eBob

    Much of this article seems to be in support of more of the same liberal nonsense that has gotten our country into the mess that it is currently in. Where is the money to do these things going to come from? The airlines (and, in turn, their passengers) should have to pay for any upgrades to the ATCS, not the taxpayer. We need to get back to paying for the things we want and need, rather than trying to find someone else to foot the bill.

  • Hapgood

    How about a thorough review of the TSA to purge it of rules and procedures that are intrusive and costly “security theater” rather than genuinely effective security. The TSA is the brainchild of the Bush-Cheney administration, and is perhaps the most visible reflection of the administration’s arrogance, ineptitude, and contempt for the public and for the rule of law. The Obama administration (I hope) has a different attitude, so I can only hope its direction will result in a TSA that’s both friendlier and more effective.

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