Patty Newman's article on the United Farm Workers [Nov.] was investigative journalism at its finest and exactly the sort of writing I hope to find in REASON. Keep up the good work.
Your readers may be interested in some additional information on practices by the Cesar Chavez bunch. Last year I was the foreman of a Federal Grand Jury in San Diego which was hearing evidence in an alien-smuggling case. According to sworn testimony, the aliens being smuggled had been recruited from as far south as 1,500 miles below the Mexican border, specifically for the purpose of padding the votes in a UFW election.
To the best of my knowledge, this practice has never been investigated nor publicized until now.
I found the December 1979 Trends piece, "Which Airlines Violate Safety Rules," most informative. The way the data were normalized, however, prompts me to ask a question.
Should the reported violations be divided only by revenue passenger miles, or should the number of take-offs and landings somehow be taken into account also? Assuming United, for example, has longer flights on average than PSA, could this factor partially account for the large difference in their ranking on your chart? With only a passenger's knowledge of air travel, it appears to me that take-offs and landings are the most critical elements in a flight.
While there may be no end to the refinements possible in such a study, many of your readers may appreciate seeing how the take-off and landing variable affects the results.
Mr. Poole replies: Mr. Buckstein raises an interesting point regarding the most appropriate parameter to use in normalizing the data. It is true that if the number of flight operations were used instead of revenue passenger miles, the disparity between the longer-range and shorter-range carriers would be considerably reduced. It is not the case that most accidents occur during landings and take-offs, however, though those phases of operation do account for a more than proportionate share. Data from the National Transportation Safety Board based on the 441 accidents involving US airlines from 1968 through 1977 indicate that 10 percent occurred on take-off, 26.8 percent on landing, and 44.2 percent during in-flight operations. (The remaining 20 percent took place with the aircraft either taxiing or at rest.) All things considered, the most accurate normalizing factor would probably be a composite measure that took into account both the revenue passenger miles and the number of aircraft operations, perhaps weighted in proportion to the relative occurrence of accidents during the in-flight and take-off/landing phases of flight, respectively.
Airlines and Airports
The item on airline safety violations in Trends is interesting, but probably not relevant to real life. My experience as a professional pilot with FAA inspectors leaves me with the opinion that the numbers probably could be correlated more accurately with the various inspectors making the reports than with the airline in question.
Some inspectors will make an unbelievable fuss about trivia, while most recognize that the real world is never quite as neat as bureaucrats would have one believe. If an airline happens to be stuck with a nit-picker, the numbers won't average out until long after he dies, retires, or transfers. One must not forget that the FAA man is inspector, prosecutor, judge, and jury, and constitutional protections don't apply.
In the same column, under "Paying for Airports" there is a serious misconception about who is paying what. Airlines are not paying into the trust fund for airport improvements; passengers are paying. Airlines are simply transfer agents. Realistically, one should collect directly from the using customer as he walks through the door of the passenger terminal.
Also neglected is the fact that private airplane owners are taxed directly by a 7-cent-a-gallon fuel tax which goes into the federal trust fund (now over $4 billion, not $3 billion). Airline fuel is exempt. At most airfields there is also a fuel "flowage fee" and/or parking fee which goes directly to the airport coffers. The lions' share of federal funds goes to the major terminals, of course. Many small airfields (without airline service) are not even eligible for any return on the money they must collect.
Other sources of income for airports are the automobile parking facilities; rentals of counter space to auto rental agencies, airlines, etc.; and ground leases to the aviation dealers who provide hangar space, fuel, maintenance, charter service, aircraft rental, and pilot training. The biggest source of revenue is frequently the parking lot (not counting the loot from the feds).
Landing fees, incidentally, are considered a rip-off by pilots and are frequently counterproductive, resulting in more money going elsewhere (even airline money). The loss can be significant—about 30 percent of the people who travel in and out of major terminals are making airline connections.
As for traffic delays, to my knowledge no one has demonstrated that peak-hour fees have actually resulted in a reduction of traffic delays. Peak hours are created by the travel desires of the public, which are catered to by the airlines. Everyone wants an 8:00 A.M. takeoff. If more people rode the red-eye specials, there would be more of them to choose from and fewer delays in the mornings.
Curtis L. Messex
The Pot And the Kettle
I could not help but be amused as I read Alan Burris's letter, "Public vs. Government," in the November issue. Mr. Burris, referring to "Shrinking Government," which appeared in the August issue, objected to the "repeated use of the word 'public' to mean government." To avoid such "semantic traps set by statists," he suggested that it should be spoken of as "government sector vs. public sector." This "preferred" terminology, like that which he criticizes, in the all too familiar statist tradition, seeks to separate the act (governing) from the actor (individual) and rest responsibility with an abstract nonentity called government, public, society, etc. Instead of trying to avoid "an identity between government and citizens," Mr. Burris, along with all other complaining governmentalists, would do well to think about: "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
West Palm Beach, FL