AIRPORT CONGESTION CHOKES ON BUREAUCRACY
For a short time, it looked as if the buying and selling of airport landing slots—the specific times throughout a particular day that an airplane can land or take off—might gain a foothold despite Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules against such sales. In July, the bankrupt carrier Air Florida agreed to sell its landing slots at National (Washington, D.C.) and LaGuardia (New York) airports to Eastern Airlines, for $3.5 million, gaining it needed cash to resume limited operations. But the FAA quickly moved to squelch the rescue plan, even though the agency is currently still considering a proposal—supported by both the Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget—to allow slot sales.
As reported earlier in REASON (Trends, June-July, p. 18), paralysis has set in on the bureaucratic system of allocating slots among the airlines. This is partly responsible for increasing airport congestion and flight delays (see "How to Ground Plane Delays," Editorial, Sept.). So bad was the situation that a group of airlines led by Eastern petitioned the FAA for immunity from the antitrust laws to be able to negotiate schedule revisions among themselves rather than face government-imposed revisions. Allowing slots to be bought and sold would be a much more economically rational way to divvy up landing slots, but in August the Justice Department's antitrust division reluctantly agreed to a limited form of the airlines' plan.
Meanwhile, there have been some noteworthy additions to the continuing debate over airport congestion and flight delays. A recent Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) study examined a major cause of congestion and delays, peak-hour demand: high use of airports at popular arrival and departure times overburdens flight lanes, airport facilities, and air traffic control capacity. To spread flights throughout the day, the OTA study suggested, airports might set landing fees based on the demand for particular times: peak-hour fees would be higher; off-peak rates, lower.
New York City's airport congestion, which is about as bad as it gets, has driven the New York Times to consider "market incentives" to relieve congestion. Letting "airlines buy and sell their peak-hour slots," a recent Times editorial advised, is "better than letting committees of bureaucrats or airline officials decide." And the editorial specifically endorsed a New York Port Authority plan to auction peak-hour slots at the cities' airports to the highest bidders and to lower rates for non-peak slots. "The airlines would presumably pass the higher cost of peak-hour service—and lower cost of non-peak service—on to passengers," the Times wrote. The editorial concluded that "incentives do seem to promise a way to achieve the best possible service for passengers." Maybe someday the FAA will reach the same conclusion.
WITH A GRAIN OF SALT
Trends reported in the October issue ("Saline Solution," p. 17) that the widely believed link between salt consumption and high blood pressure was called into question by a recent study. In fact, the study found, hypertension appears to be related to low salt intake. Further evidence for this surprising finding is accumulating.
In August, Science magazine reported on two studies indicating that hypertension may be related to insufficient calcium rather than to excessive sodium. And in Britain, a letter in the internationally respected journal Lancet from a group of medical researchers agreed that "the evidence that blood pressure is reduced by cutting down on salt is contradictory."
This strengthens even further the case for individuals being free to look at the evidence and make their own decisions about salt. But that does not faze consumer-protectionists in this country who would impose their views on others. Urged on by such groups as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced that beginning next year, the sodium content of many processed foods must be listed on their labels. Paradoxically, in the light of growing doubts about a salt-hypertension link, a government official said that the new FDA regulations are especially beneficial to people with high blood pressure, who need to reduce their salt intake.
• Free ride. In what could be a blow to the private development of satellite-based navigation and air traffic control systems, the US government has decided to offer international civilian use—at no charge—of its Navstar Global Positioning System. Developed by the Air Force for military use, the Navstar satellite system will be made available "free" to civilian users because of the widespread fear that followed the Soviets' downing of a Korean airliner last year. Meanwhile, as was reported in Trends in February ("Keeping on Course—Public or Private?" p. 20), physicist Gerard O'Neill's Geostar Corporation is continuing with development of its more-accurate and lower-cost system despite the Navstar decision.
• Injustice not pruned. In "Harvest of Power" (Sept. 1983), Patty Newman described how the "good standing" provision of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in California grants farmworkers unions the power to have a farm worker fired from his job if he or she violates union rules—a power far greater than what unions have under federal law. Unfortunately, "good standing" has now withstood a recent court challenge. In August, the California Supreme Court unanimously denied a request for a hearing on an appeals-court ruling that had upheld the coercive doctrine.
• Unleash labor? AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, calling labor laws a "dead letter," is the latest union boss to speak out for labor deregulation (see "Labor Singing a Different Tune," Oct., p. 12). If deregulation has been good for industry, he told the Wall Street Journal, "maybe it would be good for us. We're the only exception to industry craving deregulation." As our October Trends item noted, Kirkland and some other union leaders, in calling for labor deregulation, are reacting to what they see as decreasing sympathy for unions at the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces federal labor law.