As I'm sure has happened to many other writers, my idea for a clever title (in this case, to commemorate the passing of Alfred Kahn) had in fact been used before (at least once). In a July 24, 2007 article in USA Today, veteran aviation industry journalist Dan Reed provides a succinct summary of what many believe is the gentleman's strongest contribution as an economist: "Wrath of Kahn kept airfares low."

Kahn, who died at age 93 in December, is widely viewed as one of the principal architects of airline deregulation, which became law in the US in 1978, when he was Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, the agency charged with economic regulation of the nation's airlines (with FAA after 1958 having responsibility for operational and safety oversight of the airlines).

In reality, Kahn's role on center stage in the airline industry was brief. He held the CAB position less than a year and a half. Nonetheless, his role as a crucial catalyst both in the political process of getting deregulation passed into law, and then, beginning its implementation, was instrumental in shaping the US airline industry of today.

Since over three decades have passed since this occurred, it's useful to take a brief look back at how different the industry was during Kahn's time at the CAB than now. Following its initial phase of existing primarily to carry the mail, the US airline industry developed as a free enterprise free-for-all during the 1930s, leading to a call by the industry's participants for the government to save them from themselves, economically, leading to establishment of the CAB's predecessor, the Civil Aeronautics Authority, in 1938. In 1940, CAA was split into the Civil Aeronautics Administration (responsible for traffic control, safety and airways development) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (responsible for safety rulemaking, accident investigation and economic regulation of the airlines).

The latter, economic regulation, came to dictate much about how airlines could function. The CAB dictated what routes the airlines could operate, and what fares they could charge. To put this in perspective, it would have been difficult for the modern, omni-directional hub to have developed had the carriers been forced to mount a "route case" at the CAB--sometimes a multi-year process--for every spoke that they wished to add. This would have been necessary because owing to the historical nature of route development on a linear (and prescribed) basis, even carriers like American and United at Chicago, or Delta and Eastern at Atlanta did not have the authority to serve every other major city from these points.

Think that the ubiquitous availability of fare information only occurred after the internet? Domestic fares were published in a widely-available periodical, the Official Airline Guide, along with schedule information (which back in those bygone days, also listed the type of meal service provided). Since fares were almost always the same for all carriers, and there were only a limited number of fare types in the domestic market, potential customers had all the information that they needed.

On the supply side of the equation, however, what the airlines didn't have was the ability to run their businesses as....businesses. Fares couldn't be lowered to stimulate traffic (or raised, to take advantage of high demand to improve financial results); market entry and exit were regulated; indeed, it was not possible (with one exception--Air New England) to start a new interstate airline following the establishment of the post-World War II "Local Service" airlines.

Kahn's astute advocacy of deregulation changed all this, likely forever. And while not everyone agrees on whether this was entirely beneficial, it is hard to deny that a larger industry resulted, albeit one that has had trouble generating economic returns, at least on an overall basis. And yes, I am sure that there are some in the industry that would have been happier if Southwest had not escaped from the confines of Texas.

Would Alfred Kahn enjoy being remembered via a wordplay on his last name? There now is no way to find out, although I have a suspicion that, as a Gilbert and Sullivan stalwart, (according to published biographical information) he might have preferred that the reference to an Asian potentate be moved somewhat further east, so that he would be remembered as a Mikado....Or, more likely, neither. As an advocate for competition versus regulation, Alfred Kahn favored market economics, rather than business activity directed by rulers.