AVmail: December 22, 2003
Reader mail this week about the First Flight celebration, CFI price fixing, airline maintenance (or lack thereof) and more.
First Flight Celebration Could Be Better
My wife and I had the opportunity to attend the First Flight celebration last weekend, sponsored by the National Parks Service (Newswire, Dec. 15). The event was unfortunately woefully lacking in displays and vendors. The federal government was the major participant, represented by the Air Force, NASA, FAA, Coast Guard, airport-style security screening, perimeter patrol by armed National Guard troops, and a highway patrolman on nearly every corner in Kill Devil Hills.
Missing were many and varied aircraft and vendors that generate enthusiasm and attendance and make these events sucesseful. Many of the locals confided that although the EAA -- the epitomy of Orville and Wilbur's spirit -- offered to help, they were spurned by the Parks Service.
These omissions demonstrated to me why important events like this are best managed by organizations with expertise, rather than the federal government.
Wolf Hunt Too Blunt
We Alaskans hear enough ranting about the aerial wolf hunting issue from uninformed sources in lower America without your help, thank you very much (Newswire, Dec. 8). AVweb's editorializing on the issue ruined a good reading session for me (and I don't strongly disagree with the writer's position, only the ignorant ranting). Please instruct your writers to stick to subjects about which they have some inkling of knowledge, and preferably aviation topics.
What Price Value? Not Price Fixing
I think it is safe to say that Michael Maya Charles is a better pilot than I am. However, after reading his latest piece (Columns, Dec. 14), I think it is also safe to say that I am a better antitrust lawyer than he is.
I defend price-fixing class actions for a living. Plaintiffs in those cases often are able to point to similar exhortations in industry publications to the effect that "we aren't charging enough." The plaintiffs claim that this was the first step in an illegal price-fixing conspiracy. Sometimes (rarely) the plaintiffs are even right!
Remember, when competitors tacitly or expressly agree to fix, stabilize, or increase prices they charge, it's a violation of federal and (usually) state law, and the people doing it can go to jail, pay treble damages in civil cases, pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees, etc.
Competitors just can't get together and act like a labor union. If you're at a meeting of a group of flight instructors and they start sounding off about how "We should increase rates," you are living very dangerously. We routinely tell people they should loudly disavow such activity, and leave the room in a memorable way, so that later everyone remembers the disavowal. The classic advice is to knock over a pitcher of water on your way out.
I'm not an economist, but it's also pretty safe to say that rates for flight instruction are low because of supply and demand. Apparently a lot of young flight instructors are willing to live on subsistence wages in order to move up the ladder, and consumers (like me) benefit in the form of lower instruction rates.
I routinely pay more for top instruction talent, however. I think the answer to the "problem" Mr. Maya Charles identifies isn't to fix prices; rather, the best flight instructors ought to work on selling that extra expertise for extra dollars.
Just like lawyers do!
Cut Costs -- Maintenance Suffers
As someone who has been involved in the aviation-maintenance field for nearly 30 years, I have seen some disturbing trends develop (Newswire, Dec. 18). The drive to cut costs in order to compete in the free market of air travel has fallen disproportionately on the maintenance divisions. It seems as though the bean counters have been given free rein to move the chips around as they see fit; the result has been the decimation of the tried-and-true maintenance processes that have been developed over the past 50 years.
I work for a major airline and I plan to retire early in another few years. If you look around you’d be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 35 here, and if you look outside you’d find virtually no one standing in line waiting to get in. The training and experience requirements are pretty daunting; and rather than make it more attractive for young people to choose this vocation, the perceived remedy seems to be to lower the bar on those requirements. Outsourcing means one thing: An unlicensed and inexperienced workforce maintaining the fleet.
In all my years of working on aircraft, if I have learned one thing it is this: Aviation can and will be absolutely, brutally unforgiving of mistakes, transgressions and market-driven shortcuts. Maintenance of aircraft simply must be a cut above what we accept in other industries, and that means higher costs.