It’s never been safer to travel by air as it is right now — and President Donald Trump is taking credit for the trend.
Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that since taking office he has been “very strict on commercial aviation.” “Good news — it was just reported that there were Zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!” he wrote.
Trump appeared to be responding to a report released by the Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 on Tuesday, which showed that 2017 was the best year yet for global civil aviation safety, with major commercial airlines recording no fatal crashes. Overall there were 13 fatalities in crashes of smaller aircraft in 2017, down from 217 deaths in 2016, 471 deaths in 2015, and 864 deaths in 2014.
Experts say while it was the safest year on record, Trump had little to do with it. In fact, it’s possible the president has made air travel less safe, said consumer travel advocate Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and author of “The World’s Smartest Traveler.”
‘Generally we are not opposed to repealing unnecessary regulations, but there are a number of them that were proposed that were quite troubling and would have reduced the general safety for travelers.’
Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org
“It is complete and total nonsense,” Elliott said. “[Trump] made a campaign pledge to remove burdensome regulations — and if they are removing many regulations they may inadvertently remove regulations that are very necessary for safety.”
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Increases in air travel safety in recent years can be credited largely to improved FAA safety regulation over the past decade that has been replicated globally, said Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org, a non-profit airline passengers consumer organization.
Trump made two major moves in 2017 that would affect aviation: pushing to privatize air traffic control and approving the expansion of budget airline Norwegian Air NWARF, +10.39% to the U.S., but neither of those would have any direct impact on consumer safety, Hudson said.
And yet there are some concerning signs that changes could be made that might actually be bad for air travelers. Under the Trump administration, hundreds of regulations have been put under review, Hudson said, but few changes have been made.
“Generally we are not opposed to repealing unnecessary regulations, but there are a number of them that were proposed that were quite troubling and would have reduced the general safety for travelers,” he said.
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Critics say FAA should not reduce the 1,500-hour pilot training rule
One such rule opposed by the group is a move to loosen training requirements regarding the 1,500 pilot-training hours rule, Hudson said. Under the change, proposed due to pilot shortages, the FAA would allow pilots to count hours logged at other institutions, which critics say would allow them to be hired based on “time spent watching videos in a classroom.”
The number of hours required for pilots to fly was increased after a Continental Connection crash in 2009 in Buffalo, New York that killed 49 people. The pilots involved in that crash were poorly trained, overworked, and very tired at the time of the crash, investigations found.
The change to this rule was introduced 2017 by Senate transportation committee chairman John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, and will be voted on in 2018. If the FAA loosened this rule, “that definitely would reduce the level of safety,” Hudson said. (The FAA did not respond to request for comment.)
Transportation Security Administration had budget cut for 2018
In July 2017, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security cut approximately $160 million from the fiscal 2018 spending bill for the Transportation Security Administration, approving $7.2 billion for this year. (A spokesman for the TSA said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.)
The legislation “maintains full funding for transportation security officers, privatized screening operations and passenger and baggage screening equipment, according to a summary sheet,” The Hill reported. “It also includes $152 million to hire, train and deploy 1,047 canine teams to help speed up the screening process.”
On the plus side, the TSA’s Crew Member Self Defense Training Program provides 4 hours of training at no cost “to prepare active crew members of all domestic scheduled carriers for potential physical altercations both on and off the aircraft.”
Consumer advocates say air traffic control should not be privatized
Some consumer advocates have also expressed concern at Trump’s desire to overhaul the Federal Aviation Administration and privatize air traffic control. The National Consumers League, a non-profit consumer advocate group, argued that if air traffic control is privatized, companies could put profits before public safety.
“Our air traffic control system is a public good that should not be gifted over to the same big airlines that assault and drag paying customers off flights, shrink seats to medically unsafe proportions and invent increasingly outrageous new fees,” said Linda Sherry, Director of National Priorities at Consumer Action said.
The bill that would have privatized air traffic control died in the Senate in 2017, but opponents of it are concerned it will be reintroduced due to the Trump administration’s support of it.