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September 18, 2008

Where McCain and Obama Stand on Air Travel: Part One

AP Photo

by Barbara S. Peterson

Presidential candidates may fly around the country more than the average traveler, but what do they really know about air travel angst? Aside from a bizarre string of in-flight emergencies experienced by Senator Barack Obama in the last year, neither of the parties' nominees has said much about aviation during the current campaign. But the new administration will face a host of issues that could greatly affect the way we travel. Here's a quick look at where they stand:

FAA Modernization and Air Traffic Delays

The candidates agree on one point: The air travel system is in disarray. Both favor a move to a satellite-based, GPS-style tracking system to replace the current radar-based network. But here, the devil is in the details: McCain has sided with the commercial airlines that want to shift more of the costs to private plane owners--when the Federal Aviation Administration funding bill was still in committee, he voted against an amendment that would have eliminated the new $25 per-flight user fee on such "general aviation" operations. (It isn't known how Obama would have voted since the bill never made it out of committee.) McCain's vice presidential pick, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, is a strong supporter of general aviation interests, not surprising in a state heavily dependent on private flying. Last year she signed a resolution opposing the new GA fees. 

Senator Obama favors hiring more air traffic controllers, who have been without contracts for nearly two years, and he has sponsored legislation to force the FAA to return to the bargaining table with the controllers. Senator McCain has signaled that he might seek to privatize air traffic control, as has been done in a number of industrialized countries such as the U.K.; Obama is firmly opposed to such a move.

Airports, Maintenance, and Safety

The airlines' capacity cuts will fall disproportionately on smaller communities. Obama supports preserving the Essential Air Service program, a subsidy that has continued well beyond its original expiration date due to support from certain members of Congress whose districts might otherwise be left without any scheduled flights. Obama is also supportive of labor issues--not just the controllers but also groups like the machinists, who have raised alarms about losing jobs to offshore maintenance facilities. The Republicans have been loath to intervene in labor disputes, and that is not likely to change under a McCain administration.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of our run-down on McBama's thoughts.

Further reading:
* Passengers' Rights and the Presidential Race: Where Do the Candidates Stand?
* Obama's planes caused worries first in July, then again this month
* On the Fly: Barbara Peterson on the airline industry


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