A cross-section of consumer advocacy groups has joined together to protest the newly reconstituted make-up of the Transportation Department’s Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee.
On Nov. 15, DOT secretary Elaine Chao announced that she had appointed Frances Smith, an adjunct fellow at libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), to fill the committee seat representing consumer interests.
Chao also appointed Patricia Vercelli, general counsel of the trade group Airlines for America, to the seat representing airline interests and Maryland secretary of transportation Pete Rahm as the committee’s state or local government representative.
Finally, she re-appointed Indianapolis Airport Authority executive director Mario Rodriguez to the committee seat representing airport operators.
In a letter to Chao last week, the nine consumer groups trained their most intense ire on the selection of Smith, saying that the CEI has deep ties to industry.
“There is no mention of the public interest, consumer welfare, or even the word “consumer” in CEI’s mission statement,” the consumer groups said.
On its website, the CEI describes itself as, “a nonprofit public policy organization dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government, free enterprise, and individual liberty.”
Smith, the consumer groups said, has no record working on consumer-protection matters related to airlines.
Smith is set to replace Charlie Leocha as the committee’s consumer advocate representative. Leocha is the president of Travelers United, which is one of the groups that signed the letter to Chao.
The consumer groups also took umbrage with Chao’s selection of Rahm as the state government representative, arguing that the Maryland DOT has little to no involvement in aviation consumer protection. Rahm, a Republican, is set replace New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, on the committee.