John Stossel

Unless the government watches closely, the airlines will kill you.

That seems to be what many reporters and politicians believe.

"The result of inspection failures and enforcement failure [by the Federal Aviation Administration] has meant that aircraft have flown unsafe, un-airworthy and at risk of lives," says Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

"The FAA has clearly displayed a dangerous and cavalier lack of regard for tough safety enforcement," says Sen. Hillary Clinton.

And Lou Dobbs of CNN wondered "whether airlines are putting profit ahead of passenger safety."

Let me get this straight. The only reason airlines care about safety is because of the FAA? So without government, multibillion-dollar companies would jeopardize millions of passengers by unsafely flying $50-million airplanes?

The media and politicians suggest that airlines would cut corners to make money, but how would that work exactly? Crashing airliners is a route to bankruptcy, not profits.

But air-travel safety has joined mortgage defaults and global warming as "crises" of the month.

Populists in politics and the media get attention by scaring people into thinking the skies are dangerous. The politicians want more power and attention; the clueless media are genuinely scared.

The latest "crisis" was launched when the FAA fined Southwest Airlines, which has an excellent safety record, $10.2 million for missing inspection deadlines. When Rep. Oberstar criticized the FAA for being too close to the airlines, the agency sprung into overreaction. "An industry-wide 'audit' commenced, and FAA inspectors set about finding something -- anything -- to show Mr. Oberstar and other Congressional overseers that the agency was up to the job of enforcing federal maintenance requirements to the letter," said The Wall Street Journal (http://tinyurl.com/6yfm4x).

One result was the cancellation of 3,300 American Airlines flights and the stranding of 250,000 passengers over several days while 300 MD-80s were grounded so their wiring could be inspected.

American Airlines then did something rare and even heroic. It criticized the agency that regulates it for suddenly changing inspection procedures in ways that have little to do with safety. "We don't know what the rules are," said an American technical crew chief for avionics. Some rules contradict each other, the airline said.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate