Are America's friendly skies becoming too French?
Next year, passengers will be able to decide for themselves through a new law that requires airlines to include information about each plane's "country of final assembly" on the safety placard inside each seat pocket. Because there are only two major airline manufacturers in the world, passengers flying on any large jet are likely to learn that their plane is made in France, by Airbus, or in the United States, by Boeing Co.
Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure's aviation subcommittee, quietly added the provision to last year's Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act to provide "the consumer with information," he said.
He notes that Airbus airplanes now make up half the U.S. market. Airbus, a unit of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., has been steadily encroaching on the turf long owned by Chicago's Boeing Co., which is the only major U.S. player left in the industry after years of consolidation.
Boeing said it supported the move to include the country of final assembly in passenger information.
Airbus was less enthusiastic. "The safety card is an odd place to put that information," Airbus spokesman Clay McConnell said. "All commercial aircraft have to meet the same safety requirements regardless of where they are assembled."
Only Brazilian and Canadian companies build the smaller, regional jets, such as those flown by Dulles International Airport's new Independence Air.
"If you look at your T-shirts or your bra, in it there's a label where it's assembled and manufactured. Our food at the produce counter, they have labeling of where it was from," Mica said.
In its final rule issued to airlines on June 29, the FAA estimated airlines will spend $522,000 to comply with the new law. That number is based on an estimate cost of 50 cents -- including labor -- for every sticker with the information that the airlines will have to adhere to the placards.
By the FAA's math, each sticker will take one minute to attach by an airline cleaning crew employee. The agency also factored in the 753,800 airline seats in the country, plus the five hours it will take an airline manager to ensure that the work has been done.
"I wonder how many more flights the airline industry could provide with that $522,000," said Doug Wills, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the industry lobbying organization.
He quickly added that he was joking and said, "U.S. airlines choose to buy their planes from both of the major manufacturers. If the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee thinks full disclosure is a good idea, bring it on."
Mica said it should not cost the airline industry any money to comply with the new requirement because the airlines regularly replace the safety cards. The airlines have until June 2005 to add the stickers.