Over the past several years, dating back to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, US airlines have been forced to wrestle with an increasingly challenging environment. The virus caused potential passengers to cancel plans practically overnight as the seriousness of the situation became apparent.
Now, more Americans are clamoring for travel, and bookings are returning to their pre-pandemic state. Passenger carriers are responding accordingly, adding more flights and staff to match consumer expectations. However, in one high-travel destination there remains a nagging obstacle which is prompting further needless headaches for travelers, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — as well as other agencies within the federal government — can help reach a solution.
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Florida has been a frequent refuge for countless Americans who have enjoyed its beaches, amusement parks, nightlife, and food, for decades. In 2021, in a relatively down year compared to before the virus arrived on our shores, over 122 million people visited the state, many of whom arrived on commercial flights. But that same air is becoming cluttered with other traffic, and the far-reaching effect is being felt by the millions of travelers who are hoping to find themselves under an umbrella on the beach this summer. It is also hurting the businesses on the ground who depend on a robust flow of travelers from out of town to keep their doors open.
The problem is rooted in the tug-of-war between three rival entities: commercial airlines, general aviation (ie private planes), and the space businesses. Despite their critical role within our economy, airlines generally come off the worse for wear in these disputes. For example, a single space launch from Florida’s coast could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra costs for fuel for commercial carriers who are forced to re-route their flight paths to avoid a wide area. Meanwhile, private flights with only a handful of fliers are given equal weight with regard to access to airspace by the federal government as a commercial flight carrying hundreds of passengers.
The latter is due to the fact that the skies are managed on a “fair and equitable” and “first come, first serve” basis, allowing small charter jets and space businesses to muscle airlines and whomever is traveling on them.
Moreover, private jets are increasingly becoming the preferred method of travel for those who can afford it. Over the course of the pandemic, Florida became the leading state for private jet travel. Just at Palm Beach International Airport, private flights in March of this year skyrocketed by 65 percent when compared to 2019.
Launches from so-called “spaceports” have also jumped in frequency and become a regular occurrence, particularly from Cape Canaveral, bedeviling any aircraft’s attempts to fly across or near the Atlantic coast of south Florida. The threat of falling debris or a launch gone wrong is a noble rationale to shutter large swaths of airspace, but, in the meantime, this sets off a chain reaction of numerous flight delays and cancellations while the territory remains closed.
The people feeling the pinch from these circumstances is the poor soul who had to reserve the middle seat or the parents trying to ensure their family makes it to the airport on time — they are seeing more delays and cancellations in the struggle for airspace. Especially coupled with unpredictable Florida weather, the end result is passengers are facing more time worrying about when and whether their flights will arrive, which is not a positive sign for anybody pulling for a full pre-pandemic economic recovery.
This status quo is clearly untenable, and another solution must be found. Commercial airlines, their workers and passengers cannot continue to be bound to the whims of private flights and space companies. We call upon the FAA, NASA, and the other relevant federal agencies to come together and produce a solution that serves the interests of the greatest number of people and will not leave our economy taxiing on the runway.
After a successful ten-year career as a small business owner in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, mr. Kandrach moved to the Washington, DC area. He has worked on numerous state and federal campaigns and has served as Executive Director for a nationwide property rights group. mr. Kandrach has lobbied and tested before Congress and dozens of state legislatures.