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The Edge

There Ought To Be A Law!

Bob Mace

On Sept. 26 some nut job heard the clarion call of workplace terrorism and laid flame to the Aurora, Ill. Air Traffic Control Center that handles more than 2 million flights a year across a five-state area.

The Aurora air traffic controllers are responsible for traffic in and out of Chicago’s two commercial airports: O’Hare and Midway. Thousands of flights were delayed or canceled as effects rippled across the country. Planes and crews couldn’t get to where they were scheduled. Five days later, a band of thunderstorms repeated that scenario in miniature.

As has become standard, the administration has no strategy and Congress has no spine. Following ill-advised mergers and acquisitions, it isn’t three of the largest 10 airlines but rather three of the four mega-airlines in the country that have hub operations at Chicago’s overcrowded airports. Similar overcrowding occurs in New York, Washington, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas and Denver.

The nation simultaneously has a massive number of gates no longer used at former hub airports once serving the acquired carriers. Gates and concourses lay abandoned at Indianapolis, St. Louis, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, Memphis, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Milwaukee. Next year, as American finishes eliminating U.S. Air, the same will be true at Phoenix and Charlotte.

There will be congressional hearings investigating the consequences of the fire. Members will speechify about money spent on air traffic computer upgrades that aren’t performing. The Congressional Dullard Caucus consists of 435 representatives; its senate counterpart counts 100 members.

The solution is not, was not and will not be upgraded air traffic computers. What is at play is a continuing refusal to enforce federal law. The same cavalier approach to laws allowed some bad financial instrument risk decisions to become the 2008 financial meltdown. Congress, after the fact, created new laws regulating financial institutions described as “too big to fail.” The uncomfortable truth is that if laws already passed and proven had been applied, there wouldn’t be banks, airlines, phone companies, etc., that classify as too big to fail.

The Gay ‘90s doesn’t refer nonagenarian LGBTs. It is descriptive of a prosperous decade at the close of the 19th century when so-called robber barons of industry employed predatory practices to create monopolies or near monopolies. The 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act was the first attempt to limit such practice. Congress enhanced Sherman via the Clayton and FTC acts of 1914, the Robinson-Patman Act in 1936 and Celler-Kefauver in 1950. Antitrust laws sought to preserve marketplace competition by strictly regulating, among other things, the merger/acquisition activity that enabled the anticompetitive route to monopoly creation.

In recent years, banks, department and grocery stores and, very notably, airlines have been green-lighted for whatever acquisitions they wished. Locally we recall Ozark being purchased by TWA that eventually was acquired by American Airlines. In the past five years, Midwest was acquired by Frontier; AirTran by Southwest; Northwest by Delta; Continental by United and U.S. Air by American.

The 2012 U.S. Air acquisition stands out as while in bankruptcy protection, American was allowed to purchase another major carrier. That bankruptcy year, American and its executives contributed nearly $1 million to candidates and spent just shy of $5 million lobbying the government.

Upgrading air traffic computers won’t fix this mess. Today, Southwest Airlines is the sole holdout among 21st century robber barons charging outrageous baggage fees. The Edge doesn’t believe traveling 2,500 miles one-way should be expected not to require a change of clothes.

There ought to be a law! And, come to think of it, there is a law. Washington should quit ignoring it.


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