Advisory Committee: Nil Value for the Money

For almost a quarter million dollars, the taxpayers of this country and the Secretary of Transportation sure didn’t get much for the money. In fact, what they got is another toothless study which will lie moldering on the shelves.

I am referring to the latest “work” of the Future of Aviation Advisory Committee (FAAC). On 9 December 2010 the FAAC presented 23 recommendations to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on how to ensure the strength and safety of aviation. The wording of recommendation #23 is enough to give a flavor of the FAAC’s effort:

“The Secretary [of Transportation] should:

1. Utilize the full resources of his office to continuously educate the flying public about the dangers of flying with lap children.

2. Update the economic and safety data concerning families travelling with small children, including incidents and accidents involving injuries and deaths [and]

3. Based on the information provided by these finding, the Secretary should take necessary action, which may include a rule-making or other appropriate next steps.”

The giveaway words here are “may include a rule-making.” As written, it is just as likely the Secretary of Transportation will cave in to airline industry pressure and may not institute rule-making. The words “or other appropriate next steps” are imprecise and just guarantee that the whole subject of lap children will be dragged to oblivion.

The 2010 FAAC meets in Washington DC

The 2010 FAAC meets in Washington DC

If the FAAC had looked at the issue in any depth, free of airline industry influence, it could have recommended something useful:

“Given the inherent dangers of unrestrained lap children, the Secretary should institute rulemaking within three months, with the intent of ending this hazardous practice within 18 months of publishing the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).”

A recommendation along this line, with specified deadlines, would have been worth something – maybe even a quarter million dollars given the statistical value of a life. But the FAAC is comprised of academics, airline executives and others who completely outweigh representatives such as the president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), who gave an impassioned plea for action to curtail the practice of lap children. (See Aviation Safety Journal, “Advisory Group Punts on ‘Lap Children’ in Airliners”)

Other FAAC recommendations on safety are equally superficial. (See Aviation Safety Journal, “Safety Recommendations Fall Short”)

Secretary LaHood waxed appreciation for the FAAC’s report, lauding the committee’s “valuable service” providing a “blueprint” for the industry. Some blueprint; more like a glossing over of key problems.

For this, the Department of Transportation (DOT) paid $220,775 for travel and miscellaneous expenses; basically, a quarter million dollars for five FAAC meetings.

The members are not paid, but appointment to the committee allows members to shape the debate.

Here’s a breakdown of 2010 FAAC costs:

$145,308 Drafting and recording the minutes of all meetings, and drafting support for each of the subcommittee reports.

$50,012 Travel expenses outside of Washington DC for federal employees.

$25,455 Costs of webcasts, printing, supplies, and meeting-specific costs.

$220,775 Total

Given that a FAAC is appointed yearly, the expenses over time would clearly run to the millions of dollars. Not once has the Secretary of Transportation convened a press conference to announce: “Based on the recommendations of the FAAC, I am today taking action to end the practice of carrying lap children when laptop computers and coffee pots must be secured for takeoff, landing and in-flight turbulence.”

The FAAC is testament to the Washington habit of visiting a problem, not solving it. The FAAC could disappear and aviation would not be one whit less safe, much less materially safer.