For eight years, the Obama administration was proactive in adopting and enforcing a large volume of new “passenger protections” regulations affecting many aspects of airline services, including fare disclosures, the display of information on airlines’ websites, airline and travel agency advertising, accommodations for disabled passengers, and airlines’ obligations to passengers in the event of an extended tarmac delay. Aviation companies, like other industries, are hopeful that the Trump administration will adopt a more “hands-off” or deregulatory approach.
That optimism appeared to be validated on January 30, 2017, when President Trump signed an executive order titled, “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs.” The executive order requires that for each new regulation implemented, two prior regulations be repealed. The White House subsequently issued “interim guidance” clarifying that the “2-for-1” requirement would only apply to “significant regulatory actions.” Nonetheless, the executive order reflects the Trump administration’s general skepticism, even hostility, toward regulation. This anti-regulation policy’s purpose is to increase efficiency and reduce regulatory burdens on companies. While the aviation industry may generally welcome the prospect of new obstacles to agencies’ adoption of additional, potentially burdensome and costly regulations, the Trump administration’s new policy may harm the industry’s interests in some specific areas. These could include additional Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations to enhance safety, U.S. Department of Transporation (DOT) efforts to curb abuses of regulations allowing disabled passengers to be accompanied by “emotional support animals” in the aircraft cabin, and new FAA regulations to facilitate broader use of drones for commercial purposes.
It is widely recognized that some passengers fraudulently claim to suffer from a mental or emotional disability in order to bring a pet in the cabin (uncaged). DOT regulations require such passengers provide documentation from a mental health professional confirming the passenger’s need to travel with an emotional support animal. Documentation purporting to satisfy this requirement, however, can be purchased online for less than $100 from questionable sources claiming to diagnose (remotely) passengers’ need for such animals. Airlines have asked DOT to revise its regulations to ensure that only “qualified individuals with a disability” may receive an in-cabin accommodation for emotional support animals. Airlines also want DOT to examine the types of emotional support animals that airlines are required to accommodate in the cabin. (Under current DOT rules, airlines may be required to allow passengers to travel with miniature horses, pigs, and monkeys in the cabin.) The Obama administration, however, failed to act. While airlines may hope that DOT under the Trump administration may be sympathetic to airlines’ concerns about emotional support animals, it is not clear whether DOT will address the issue by regulation and, if so, how the anti-regulation policy may complicate the process of adopting a regulatory change.
Commercial uses of drones in the United States continue to expand rapidly. Current FAA regulations, however, impose significant limitations on such operations and generally prohibit certain types of operations altogether (e.g., operations over people, at night, or outside the visual line of sight of a pilot or observer). Companies may apply to the FAA for a case-specific waiver of individual provisions of the regulations, but approval (if received) can take weeks or months. Under the Obama administration, the FAA was preparing new regulations that would permit the operation of drones over people, but those regulations have not been issued and the FAA has clarified its plans for this proposed regulation since President Trump took office.
These issues illustrate that, contrary to businesses’ reflexive antipathy toward regulation, some regulations may be helpful to the aviation industry. It is unclear how DOT and FAA will implement the Trump administration’s “2-for-1” regulatory policy or how the administration’s general skepticism about regulation may inhibit the process of adopting new regulations, including those that attract support from the aviation industry.