AIRLINE PASSENGERS everywhere should be somewhat relieved to learn that airline safety and service is finally getting some official attention -- even if the various responses of the administration and Congress have yet to address the issues effectively. It is once again politically fashionable to worry about safety and complain about service -- as well as to propose half-baked or overdone measures. Suddenly the Department of Transportation has done a 180-degree turn and announced plans to hire 955 additional air controllers, supervisors and traffic management specialists next year -- after arguing for years that it had enough trained controllers to run things around the country. At the same time, controllers have voted overwhelmingly to organize a new union; the Federal Aviation Administration is announcing new moves to control this summer's peak air traffic; and members of Congress are suddenly blaming everything bad on deregulation and suggesting the very kinds of regulations that originally generated the calls for deregulation.
Not that more controllers aren't needed -- on the contrary, as Rep. Norman Y. Mineta of California, chairman of the House Public Works aviation subcommittee, notes, the move is long overdue. In the Senate, appropriations subcommittee chairman Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey was more blunt. "Finally the FAA is admitting they have problems. What they're trying to cover up is that they're way understaffed, way undertrained and have not managed the system properly." That may be harsh, but the administration's latest announcement still doesn't address the immediate shortage of trained controllers. It takes more than a year of training before a controller can begin to direct traffic -- and more than three years to be become fully trained.
Some members of Congress are still pushing legislation that would call for the rehiring of some of the 11,400 controllers fired in 1981 during an illegal strike. While many of these former controllers have since reached what would be retirement age or may not still have the necessary skills, it does seem that enough time has passed that President Reagan should consider individual cases in light of how they might help`the situation.
At the same time, there are bills to require airlines to schedule their departures and arrivals realistically; to require a Department of Transportation hot line for consumer complaints; to require all sorts of other information from airlines on cancellations, lost baggage and, for all we know, the precise number of peanuts in each little silver bag handed out in flight. There's even a bill calling for re-establishment of the old Civil Aeronautics Board to regulate routes and fares again.
Whoa. Safety and service are public concerns, and pressures for better safety and service can be constructive. But political eagerness to hop on the fix-it bandwagon can produce retrogressive, silly laws. Congress should proceed down the legislative runway with caution.