This week, the U.S. Senate may take up the dull-as-watching-paint-dry, yet important matter of reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Sen. Mike Lee has important deregulatory legislation he's pushing as part of that effort: A bill to allow flight-sharing via digital services.
Strangely, while the FAA currently allows pilots to post physical flight-sharing notices on bulletin boards at airports, during Obama's presidency, they banned digital equivalents of the same.
The Goldwater Institute has sued to overturn that rule on the basis that it violates the First Amendment as well as due process rights.
Lee wants to change the rules legislatively with a bill so simple it taps out at basically a single page. And the FAA apparently objects.
Despite now operating under President Trump who has taken a machete to the administrative state, the FAA seems to be holding to its "no flight-sharing postings" rule-- a massive boon to big airline interests, who are coincidentally pretty well represented at the Department of Transportation and the FAA, specifically.
Who benefits when digital hubs allowing pilots to tell people "I'm flying to Orlando on Saturday, you can come, too, if you share the fuel cost" are banned? Clearly, the big airlines who desperately do not want passengers having any alternative to their cramped seats, poor customer service, or rigid flight schedules. Who gets shortchanged? Individual pilots and consumers, of course.
Rumor is that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) may also be quietly lobbying against Lee's bill, despite the fact that it would clearly benefit AOPA members who would like to participate in more flight-sharing, and would benefit from the FAA ditching its ban on digital hubs and apps by which this flight-sharing could be arranged. There is concern that this lobbying could push Sen. Jim Inhofe to oppose Lee's bill, despite Inhofe's staunchly deregulatory record.
What will happen to Lee's bill? Odds are, its fate will become clear within the next 48 hours. The question is whether Republican Senators will wind up siding with the Obama-era FAA that thought overregulation was the new hotness, even if it came at the cost of fewer consumer choices. Or, will Republicans do the philosophically consistent thing and side with Lee-- and free speech, and free markets?