Rich Tucker

But it’s more likely Southwest knew what it was doing. As of this writing, the airline’s never had a fatal accident. “The important point is that at no time were we operating in an unsafe manner, and I think our history proves it,” company CEO Gary Kelly told CNN. Like all airlines, Southwest certainly realizes it’s just one crash away from bankruptcy. Because it aims to stay in business, it won’t fly dangerous planes.

It’s worth noting that airline passengers are safer today than they’ve been in years. There were 0.16 accidents per 100,000 flight hours in 2006, down from 0.31 accidents per 100,000 flight hours in 1987. Airlines are doing their job and getting people safely to their destination. Too bad the FAA isn’t keeping its end of the bargain.

According to The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm, “the FAA has failed time and again to implement the upgrades the nation needs to manage the growth in air traffic. Our air-traffic control system is a national embarrassment.”

This, of course, is what the federal government should focus on. While each airline is concerned with keeping its planes in the air, we need a national system, not run by a particular airline, to tell us where those planes are and manage their takeoffs and landings. But the FAA hasn’t built that system.

“The FAA has consistently wasted billions over the past 25 years, often on programs that only get so far and are then cancelled,” The Boyd Group asserts. “And most of their major projects end up way over original cost estimates.”

Still, expect more FAA directives and more delays in the weeks ahead. “There’s always going to be extremes, just as there are in politics, and to some extent this is a political issue,” airline consultant Bob Harrell says. “Auditors get paid to audit, get paid to find things.” Airlines, of course, get paid to deliver passengers safely to their destinations.

A private business, one that’s understandably interested in making a profit by keeping its customers safe and alive, will do a better job protecting those customers than any federal bureaucracy ever can. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who trade their freedom to fly for federal security while doing so will receive neither -- and eventually lose both.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for