As the recent US government shutdown illustrated, the economic and social benefits that aviation offers nations cannot be held hostage to politics.
Ten missing air traffic controllers. If the press reports are accurate, that’s all it took to end the partial government shutdown in the United States that had dragged on without resolution for five weeks.
Now, an argument can be made that the world’s largest aviation system should have sufficient staffing resources to manage through 10 controllers who call in sick, without bringing operations at New York’s LaGuardia airport to a crawl. And we all owe a big thanks to the thousands of dedicated air traffic controllers and others who kept the US aviation system functioning safely and securely under extreme circumstances for more than a month.
The bigger point, however, is that the US government shutdown did not end because of compromise that resolved political differences. It ended when it became evident that people’s reliance on effective air connectivity was at risk. The safety of the system was not at issue. But rising air traffic delays and cancellations posed a real risk to the economic and social well-being of the country.
It took an imminent crisis of air connectivity to remind decision makers that aviation is far too important to be held hostage to political disagreements
In other words, it took an imminent crisis of air connectivity to remind decision makers that aviation is far too important to be held hostage to political disagreements. The numbers bear this out. Aviation supports 6.5 million US jobs and contributes over $778 billion to the nation’s GDP, when the benefits of aviation-supported tourism are included. Aviation’s contribution to the US is but a fraction of its total impact. Globally, aviation supports over 65 million jobs with an economic impact of $2.7 trillion, equivalent to 3.6% of global GDP. A third of global trade by value moves by air.
The intangibles are as important as the economic impact. Aviation is the Business of Freedom because it liberates us from the constraints of geography and distance. Aviation reunites families and friends, and enables journeys of learning and discovery.
As an example, estimates are that more than 1 million international students travel to the US for their higher education. Such a scale was neither conceivable nor possible before air transport. Aviation enables us to lead better lives and makes the world a better place.
We need to state this loudly and frequently. That means we must all become stronger voices for the Business of Freedom. The potential impact of 10 air traffic controllers on the US aviation system may have ended this US government shutdown. But each and every day policymakers make decisions that touch on aviation. And we need to make sure that—whether in crisis or not—the vital importance of the Business of Freedom is top of mind.
Alexandre de Juniac: Director General and CEO, IATA