To me, whether or not somebody gets to beat the tax on a plane ticket or two is a sideshow compared to the real downsides of the FAA shutdown.
First and foremost, 4,000 more people nationwide have stopped getting their paychecks. Even though air traffic controllers and FAA safety inspectors are still working, all those other people have, temporarily at least, joined the unemployment roles. The nation can obviously not afford that.
And there's more. Two years ago almost exactly, not long after the Colgan crash in Buffalo, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt convened an Aviation Rulemaking Committee, comprised of pilots, airline management, and the FAA itself, to examine the regulations regarding flight time and duty time for airline pilots. You may remember this happening--it actually made the news. These regulations have not been revised in any significant way in decades, since the days of prop planes, when crews seldom crossed more than a single time zone in a day. Moreover, the current rules were written before there was any significant science about circadian rhythms and all the other medical issues concerned with the kinds of lives pilots lead.
The president of the Air Line Pilots Association asked Cap'n Matt to take part in the group, and he spent six weeks at FAA headquarters to hammer out a draft of a new set of regulations. It was nice to have him home for a time, and he and the rest of the group worked very hard come up with a new set of regulations. They heard testimony from top people in the scientific world, worked to balance the impact on both pilots and airlines, did a lot of good-faith give and take.
In the two years since then, the regs have been slogging their way through the bureaucracy. There had to be a public comment period; the whole thing had to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office to determine any impact on the federal budget; all sorts of hoop-jumping.
Exactly, one year ago, Congress got impatient, and actually passed a law saying that if the final regs were not promulgated by August 1, 2011, the FAA's funding would be withheld.
This got their attention, and as far as anybody knows, the whole deal is supposed to come down this week, or Monday at the latest.
Naturally, we're checking the news every day to see whether anything happens. The cruel irony would be if because Congress has already withheld funding and shut down the FAA, the people who were supposed to publish the rules are out of work and can't do it. If they're not published by Monday, of course the FAA is in violation of the law passed last year by Congress, and is subject to having its funding withheld. . .again.
I believe this is what is known as a classic Catch-22.
And far from a ticket tax, this issue is one that impacts the safety of all aboard every airliner. It will still take some time to implement the regs after they're published, because all pilot contracts will have to be reopened and adjusted to mesh with the new rules. So the sooner this happens the better for all of us.