Tag Archives: faa

Regulation of the Day 215: TacoCopter

Correction: According to Wired, TacoCopter turns out to have been a prank. It says a lot about the advancing state of technology that the concept was believable. So worry not, delivery drivers. Your jobs are safe. For now.

Whatever one’s feelings about unmanned attack drones, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have found a peaceful use for them that almost everyone can support: delivering food to hungry people.

It works like this: place an order from their taco shop using a smartphone with GPS. The restaurant cooks up your order, loads it into an unmanned drone, and the TacoCopter flies to your location and delivers it to you right where you stand.

It’s a pretty cool idea. But even though TacoCopter has been around for almost a year, they have yet to get off the ground – figuratively or literally. FAA regulations don’t allow unmanned drones to be used for commercial purposes. Maybe TacoCopter should re-charter as a non-profit?

TacoCopter co-founder Star Simpson told the Huffington Post, “Honestly I think it’s not totally unreasonable to regulate something as potentially dangerous as having flying robots slinging tacos over people’s heads … [O]n the other hand, it’s a little bit ironic that that’s the case in a country where you can be killed by drone with no judicial review.”

Non-FAA critics argue that TacoCopter-style automation would put delivery drivers out of work. If TacoCopter becomes a success, it almost certainly would eliminate some delivery jobs. But those critics haven’t proven that this would be a bad thing.

There was a time when about 90 percent of Americans were farmers. Automation has reduced that to about two percent today. Despite all those lost jobs, the main reason unemployment is over 8 percent isn’t new technology. It’s a recession. Something about anti-automation arguments doesn’t compute – they forget that economies are filled with change and dynamism. Technology marches on, yet most people still find work.

If a machine takes away a man’s job, that man is now free to pursue another opportunity. Remember, opportunity is not a zero-sum game. Economic prosperity requires creating more wealth with less labor. Reducing the amount of labor used on food delivery frees that labor for other, higher-valued uses.

The FAA should reconsider its ban-first-ask-questions-later approach. And latter-day Luddites need not fear for the deliveryman’s future.

A Market Failure in Air Traffic Control?

There has been a disturbing rash of stories lately about air traffic controllers sleeping on the job. Fortunately, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is on the case. The FAA will implement new regulations this week requiring more time off between shifts and tighter restrictions on late-night shifts for traffic controllers.

This illustrates why air traffic control is simply too important an issue to leave to the free market. Lives are literally at stake every day. These sleeping-on-the-job stories are a classic example of market failure. It is time to put the government in charge of air traffic control and take it out of the hands of greedy capitalists.

Regulation of the Day 146: Airplane Child Seats

If you and your small child are flying away on a vacation, most airlines will let the child fly for free. If the child sits in your lap, you don’t have to pay for a second seat. But the National Transportation Safety Board doesn’t think that is safe.  Severe turbulence and rough landings kill a lap-child or two every decade.

That’s why NTSB wants to require all children to sit separately, comfortably ensconced in the child safety seats they use when riding in a car.

The NTSB’s intentions are laudable. They’re trying to make people safer. But intentions are not results. And this rule’s results would be exactly opposite its intentions. It would kill far more people than it would save.

That’s because making parents pay for an extra ticket raises the cost of flying. Many families will choose to drive instead. And remember, driving is much more dangerous than flying. According to CEI’s Sam Kazman, studies show that the extra driving in lieu of flying would kill about 50 people per decade, plus thousands more injuries.

Throwing away 50 lives to save one or two lives is a bad deal. It is literally death by regulation. That’s also why the FAA has repeatedly refused NTSB’s periodic demands to make parents pay more to fly. May they stand firm again.

See also today’s press release from Sam Kazman.

Regulation of the Day 131: Airport Vendors

A regulation passed in 2005 states that “at least 10 percent of all business at the airport selling consumer products or providing consumer services to the public are small business concerns (as defined by regulations of the Secretary) owned and controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual (as defined in section 47113(a) of this title).

The requirement that the size of a business be taken into account is puzzling; a company’s size has little to do with whether it will do a good job or not.

I would also argue that airports are disadvantaged enough, having already to deal with the TSA, the FAA, the DOT, and others. Snark aside, airports are poorly run, almost without exception. Forcing them to hire vendors and contractors on factors other than price and performance is unlikely to improve matters.

Disadvantaged business quotas bring up a third issue: What happens if a disadvantaged business owner prospers through her hard work, and can no longer be considered disadvantaged? Does she get kicked out of the airport?

That thorny question would have been put to rest on April 21 of this year, when a built-in sunset provision would have made the regulation expire. Wayne Crews and I have written before favoring sunset rules for all new regulations. It’s a painless way to automatically get rid of rules when they become obsolete, or that turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth.

If a rule merits another five years on the books, Congress should be able to vote on it.

In this case, however, the Department of Transportation is getting set to renew the disadvantaged quota program all by itself. Permanently.

According to the DOT, leaving in the sunset provision “would simply cause confusion and disruption, making it more difficult for all parties concerned to carry out their responsibilities under the statute.”

Laws are supposed to be made by legislative branch, not the executive. What we have here is one more case of regulation without representation, out of thousands. You can read all about it in today’s Federal Register.