For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here.
The Federal Aviation Administration has two principal functions, explained Robert Poole in Reason's January 1979 issue: "operating the air traffic control system and ensuring the safety of aircraft design, maintenance, and operation." Yet in instance after instance, Poole noted, the FAA has failed on both counts. What should be done? Poole made the case for why "the FAA should be given a decent burial and the private marketplace allowed to take over its functions."
It is generally taken for granted that unless the government looked after these aspects of aviation, there would be chaos and carnage in the skies. Yet many aviation observers maintain that we have chaos and carnage in the skies today, not in spite of the FAA's efforts, but because of its incompetence. Once we see, however, what the FAA is responsible for and how it operates, it becomes clear that there are other ways to get the job done.