DEPARTURES -- Opinions On Current
Issues In Aviation
Feeding at the 'Homeland, Inc.' Trough
By Bob Mann, President, RW Mann & Company, Inc.
The travel industry ought
to be concerned about the "Homeland,
Incorporated" power, money and civil liberties grab. This looks like the
biggest financial give-away and civil liberties distortion in history, set
to impose new expenses on, and drive revenue away from, the industry it is
ostensibly designed to save.
Airport, airline and
related interests ought to take notice before
this initiative gains headway, drives customers away and damages prospects
for industry recovery. The process, as outlined, has questionable
technical merit, plus all the appearances of preferential access to
decision-makers by campaign contributors and special interests.
The proposals add expense,
and likely new fees, on top of recent
security fee increases, that imperil the Golden Goose that is the travel
industry. The privacy and civil liberties issues are profound and will
drive revenue away from scheduled air.
Let's review the state of play:
* "Go Teams" self-invited to alter the state
of play in airport security
processes -- unilaterally -- avoiding airport or municipal input.
* Data firms invited to mix 'n' match airline reservations, travel histories
and lifestyle information in an Orwellian "mandatory background and
credit check with every ticket purchase," charging several dollars
per passenger. It's vaporware for years. Privacy concerns?
Fair Credit Reporting Act? Effectiveness?
* Interagency Working Group created "to review and develop national
aviation system-level policy," without DOT representation.
(Oops, got caught; never mind.)
Who is drafting policies, vetting
volunteers and populating Go Teams?
Employees "on loan for up to one year" to "guide the process" from large
government contractors, firms that hope to be large government contractors,
and "best practices" consultancies. The sort of firm that goads management
into Enronesque plans because they advise their other clients to do
likewise -- circular logic at its best and worst.
A few secondees are actually
termed bureaucrats, but the term
"aviation industry expert" is not seen in this context. Rather, we have
amusement, entertainment and lodging firms, whose expertise is making
people feel good, while doing absolutely nothing, waiting -- not generating
productivity. We have big iron firms with checkered records implementing
fast-paced integration efforts anywhere close to budget or on time, and
those wounded accounting/consulting constellations. Nice match with a
campaign contributors matrix, too.
There is no way this
can be viewed as anything but a conflict of
interest. Is Washington just so brazen that it doesn't care?
The echelon-like proposals
under evaluation are overly broad,
needlessly complex, lack immediacy, have unspecified benefits arriving far
off in the future, if ever, are outrageously and unnecessarily costly as
proposed and will escalate, given proposers' records. Claims on civil
liberties and consumer privacy are over the top and ought to raise eyebrows
at the Supreme Court level, but with due respect, we know their voting
record. Invasive pre-travel screening and less privacy will drive
executives away from scheduled air, to captive and managed lift -- just
what this industry does not need, now or ever.
Ironically, any airline
doing a competent job of flight firming and
customer relationship management has the data and systems required to do a
comprehensive screening job well, can do it today, faster/better/cheaper
and for pennies per PNR -- not $2 per passenger that the proposers are
demanding as fees. All the industry has ever needed is access to
appropriate agency databases, for appropriate security purposes.
New costs and more fees
mean fewer people traveling, especially
discretionary and short-haul passengers, undermining the airline industry's
profit recovery. "Just a few dollars more," on top of rising PFCs
[passenger facility charges], new security screening fees and, yet to come,
a proposal to double passenger arrival fees.
Now is not the
time to dilute our standards in pursuit of true
airline industry security and prosperity. We cannot allow the imposition
of processes, procedures and systems that would constitute the airline
industry's Vietnam: "We had to kill it, to save it." We can and must do