Sometimes the best action is to take none, which is precisely the route I chose last week when many people were falling over themselves to tell outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood how much they appreciated his past four years on the job. No criticism on my part for their actions though. Industry groups do what they have to do to operate successfully in DC.
Me, I’m just glad LaHood is on the way out. LaHood was an Illinois Congressman before President Obama plucked him off the Hill in 2009 to watch over the transportation industry. His transportation experience at the time … service on the House transportation and infrastructure committee.
While LaHaood was awash in accolades last week for his consumer work, I’d suggest everyone take a deep breath and look at the record. The consumer protections of the Don’t leave passengers sitting all night on an airline ramp without food or water Bill actually evolved because of the lobbying efforts of one lady mostly — Kate Hanni of Flyers Rights.org, not Mr. LaHood. And to credit LaHood with a win because delays are down is beyond silly. Overall air traffic is down nearly 30% since 9/11 for starters. Then of course, the flyers rights bill convinced airlines it was easier to cancel flights when the weather threatened, also leading to less traffic. LaHood had nothing to do with any of that.
And let’s not forget his brilliant Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC) in 2010, designed to provide leadership and vision to the industry. Great PR for the Secretary, but tell me what the work of all those experts actually accomplished? Our president still thinks business airplanes are toys and should pay accordingly. Thanks for that Ray. And as to that recent FAA reversal of strategy on Boeing’s 787 — first the airplane was safe, but in need of a top to bottom certification review and then a week later the airplane was grounded because it wasn’t safe? Those moves didn’t come from FAA. They had LaHood’s fingerprints all over them.
A New DOT Secretary?
So now Mr. LaHood is on the way out and the President finally has a simple choice to make in choosing his replacement. Take the easy way out with another political appointee, someone with little or no experience and prove to the industry yet again how little regard he holds us all in — including all of those fat cats in business aviation of course — or talk to the industry and learn how the choice of a leader might actually promote growth in aviation, or even change the face of the aviation world. The President might choose a man or woman with demonstrated experience in aviation as the next DOT Secretary, someone who realizes that business aviation is not about fat cats jetting off to the Caribbean for a weekend in their Gulfstreams, That man or woman would need to understand that business aviation is about, well … business. And that the Boeing’s and Gulftsreams and Cessnas and Pipers are the largest single exporter of goods in the U.S. Or imagine a man or woman who realizes that the shortage of qualified pilots and maintenance technicians is drawing eerily closer than Mr. LaHood ever realized.
Let’s look at a few of the possible candidate. A couple of former governors — Michigan’s Jennifer Granholm and Pennsylvania’s Ed Rendell — neither of whom have any past direct transportation experience. Both are attorneys and solid Democrats though. The only man with previous transportation experience of any kind, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has already turned down the job.
But there is one more candidate right now … Deborah Hersman, the current Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) a position she’s held since being named to the post in 2009 by President Obama after having won unanimous support from the Senate during her confirmation hearing. Hersman arrived at NTSB with bi-partisan support in 2004 after being nominated by President George Bush. Prior to her appointments to NTSB, Hersman was a “senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation from 1999-2004 and served as Staff Director and Senior Legislative Aide to West Virginia Congressman Bob Wise from 1992-1999. Her efforts contributed to the passage of milestone bills such as the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002, Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century, and Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act.”
The aviation industry has ended a pretty miserable 12 years, some under George Bush and the past four under Barack Obama. Our current President seems to have litte idea and little interest in learning where aviation could or should fit into his plans to grow the economy. If he nominates another politician, we’re probably going to see four more years of the ame if not worse behavior on the part of the White House toward aviation, beginning of course with this insane user fee Mr. Obama would like to levy. And for those of you who might not be familiar with the idea, business aviation is on record as ready to accept higher taxes, just but not the useless piece of bureaucracy the White House wants to create to collect the tax.
I don’t know Chairman Hersman personally although I’ve interviewed her a few times. But imagine for a moment Mr. Obama if you chose this woman to replace Mr. LaHood? We’d find ourselves working with a woman who has gained enormous respect in the transportation industry for leading the never-ending efforts to regularly sway the FAA on issues of aviation safety. So focused on transportation safety in general is Hersman, that in 2011 she boldly suggested cell-phone use should be banned in motor vehicles. My guess is she could probably handle herself with the President.
So here’s a solution I’d like to suggest.
The National Business Aviation Association NBAA (of which I am a member) has a marvelously simple system in place to contact Congress. What if you clicked here and told your representative or Senator to suggest the White House try a new strategy with the aviation industry … save it rather than kill it? And what if you also asked them to do their best to convince the White House that it’s time to choose someone to run DOT that understands transportation safety as well as the aviation industry like Deborah Hersman?
See … that wasn’t so hard now, was it?