United Airlines' outrages are the least of it.
For most people, flying is not very enjoyable. Delays are common, prices are high, and flights are uncomfortable and long. You can even get kicked off a flight that you paid for, as the recent United Airlines scandal has reminded everyone. Yet, there has been at least one idea to alleviate all these problems. Unfortunately, each of these ideas has been stymied by FAA restrictions.
One such idea has been called “Uber in the Air.” Private planes fly between airports all the time, and the practice of listing such flights ahead of time on billboards and offering to take passengers along in exchange for help with flight costs has been around for decades. The company Flytenow simply transferred this information that was on various physical billboards and placed it online in a centralized platform. Despite its potential to save passengers and pilots alike money on transportation costs, the FAA shut Flytenow down.
Why? The FAA deemed that Flytenow pilots are “common carriers” just like any major airline. This meant that the FAA considered Flytenow pilots to be “out for hire.” Perhaps the FAA was deceived by the “Uber in the Air” moniker, but Flytenow pilots could not make any profits on their flights, only defray a proportion of the costs. Yet the FAA still subjected pilots using Flytenow to the same licensing fees, regulations, and liabilities that major airlines face, forcing Flytenow to shut down. Unfortunately, it is far more likely that the FAA was influenced by airline special interests. As Flytenow co-founder Alan Guichard explains, “flight sharing gives people options.” Entrenched special interests that currently dominate the market tend not to like options.
Certainly the FAA was not influenced by concerns about the viability of Flytenow, as the concept has already been proven successful overseas. Flytenow’s European counterpart, Wingly, has been operating in Germany and the UK since 2016. France tried to ban flight sharing just as the FAA did, but the EU ruled that the country had to allow this service because there was no compelling reason not to allow it. Wingly can save private pilots as much as 75 percent of operating costs if seat openings are filled. Flytenow could provide similar benefits for American pilots and passengers if the FAA would realize that regulators should not ban a completely legal practice simply because it is online and more efficient.
Just as the FAA is at fault for reducing options for finding cheaper flights, it is also to blame for why flights take so long: the FAA has banned commercial supersonic flight over the United States since 1973. In no small part due to this, flight speeds have stagnated over the past decades. While supersonic travel brings to mind the failed Concorde, which was the result of a political collaboration between France and the UK, supersonic air travel technology has come a long way over the last quarter century.
Today, supersonic airplanes can fly faster, quieter, and less expensively than their older counterparts. This has given rise to the development of start-up company Boom, which aims to develop commercial supersonic aircraft. These planes would offer tickets starting at around a tenth of the price of Concorde tickets, generate a sonic boom that would largely fit into background noise (about 100 times quieter than the Concorde), and fly across the United States in about two hours. Additionally, if noise is what the FAA is concerned about, the agency should adopt a noise standard for supersonic aircraft — not a speed limit.
Boom’s success would mean a shorter flight to go see family, but it would also create greater business opportunities when overseas flight times are cut in half or more. Boom expects to offer tickets at a comparable rate to subsonic business class tickets, meaning that companies can affordably transport employees almost anywhere in the world in a relatively short time. Such a revolution in flight speed would be economically beneficial; however, Boom cannot be successful without the FAA lifting its complete ban on civil supersonic flight over land.
Regulation is never “free.” There is always a cost, but the costs that most likely come to mind are harms to seemingly abstract macroeconomic measurements such as employment rates, economic growth, or median incomes. However, regulation can also come at the cost of ideas. Ideas to create a new beneficial product or service can be made impractical by unnecessary or excessively burdensome regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration’s attitude towards flight sharing and supersonic flight shows that it is guilty of stifling ideas that could benefit Americans.