This article, Free the FAA, came across my desk today and I felt compelled to tell its author, through talking to my monitor, that almost everything related to air travel is a matter of air safety. Unionization gives workers the power to say no to unsafe working conditions or to refuse to sign off inadequately repaired aircraft, because the union can protect them from retribution. Disputes of any kind are a source of stress and intra-workforce friction, a documented factor in accidents. I don't think there is any community in the contiguous United States for which subsidized air service is an essential service, but if it were, the provision of such service would be a safety issue, because left to the free market, communities that the larger airlines found uneconomical to serve would be served instead by the sort of company that undermaintain and overinsure their aircraft, so that a hull loss results in an upgrade.
By Edward L. Glaeser THE FEDERAL Aviation Administration does a fine job at its main duty - making air travel safe. But it’s is also involved with a lot of things it shouldn’t be, from disputes about unionization to subsidies for rural airports. If Americans want to keep flying safely, Congress must free the FAA from obligations unrelated to preventing accidents. The agency got back to work recently after a two-week, politically charged shutdown that had nothing to do with safety. To continue some operations related to planning and maintaining airports, the FAA needed new authorization from Congress. But the Senate initially balked at a House plan that also capped "essential air service" subsidies to rural airports at $1,000 per passenger. Some Senate Democrats also opposed a House plan that, by reversing a pro-union ruling last year by the National Mediation Board, would make it harder for workers on airport projects to organize.
I'm not saying there aren't gross inefficiencies and waste in the FAA giving opportunities for cost savings without loss of function. It's a government body, and one attached to the very large government of a traditionally rich country, so that's to be expected. But it's very difficult to draw a circle around "safety" functions yet exclude some aspects of air travel oversight.