From the past, a blast. Deregulation, like success, has many fathers when times are good, but those fathers and architects sometimes fade intro the woodwork when airlines are caught up in real turbulence. Not so for Alfred Kahn, who is one of the few to earn the title and one of the few to stand consistently for what he believes in. As chairman of the old Civil Aeronautics Board, he led the movement to deregulate US airlines in 1978. Now 91, he’s still active and sharp of mind and tongue, and spoke this week to the world gathering of airport types at the Airport Council International’s big global summit in Boston. Kahn reminded the 2,000 delegates, “The industry in the last 30 years gave the public something it had not received before: high quality, space, and low cost. It catered to a variety of demands and abilities today so that we had an enormous spread of fares. It offered the people upgrades such as business class and frequent flyer miles.”
But Kahn, who now teaches at Cornell University, noted that increased air traffic has led to congestion, which has led to delays and unhappy flyers and that has led to calls for government reregulation.
He warned, “My business is not in prediction, but it seems that $150 per barrel of oil will not be absorbable by a government plan. Airports and air traffic control systems need to be creative and innovative. If you depend on Congress, you are going to wait forever. It has got to be privatized and needs to simply follow the market and economic principles.”
But funding airports and the aviation system through weight-based formulas, fuel excise taxes, and ticket taxes, says Kahn, “is the most absurd way to do it.” He adds, “You couldn’t devise a system of pricing that was more perfectly prepared to create congestion.”