According to news reports, during the Obama administration, the Federal Aviation Administration diluted standards for air traffic controllers by screening out applicants competent in science and even those with experience as pilots. This was because of a union group charging that the ranks of air traffic controllers were too white, but critics say it puts “diversity” above the safety of the public. There is a backstory here, one might say a Bakke story.
Allan Bakke wanted to be a doctor and held a GPA of 3.51 with a 3.45 in science. On the quantitative part of the MCAT he scored 94, with a 97 in science and 72 on the general information section, higher than the average for regular admits. Despite such distinguished qualifications, UC Davis rejected Bakke and reserved spots for minority applicants with much lower scores. One of them was Patrick Chavis, hailed by Sen. Ted Kennedy and national media as a champion of affirmative action. Chavis veered into plastic surgery and wound up killing a patient and injuring three during liposuction. The medical board suspended his license citing his “inability to perform some of the most basic duties required of a physician.”
Bakke won his case and became a safe and successful doctor. California passed Proposition 209, which barred racial preferences, and as Jeff Jacoby noted, “minority students admitted without regard to race rarely fail.” As Thomas Sowell has often pointed out, statistical disparities between groups are the rule, not the exception. In diversity dogma, all professions must reflect the ethnic proportions of society. That fails to account for personal differences, effort, and choice.
An incompetent air traffic controller, meanwhile, could easily cause many more casualties than Dr. Chavis. So the bar should be raised, not lowered and applicants should be rewarded, not punished, for their experience as pilots. Recall that in 2009 pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed his stricken airliner on the Hudson River with no loss of life. After that miraculous event, some in the National Transportation Safety Board thought he should have returned to LaGuardia. They were wrong and Sully was right.
President Trump wants to privatize the whole air control system. An FAA that lowers standards and endangers the public strengthens the case for such action.
K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute.