There’s some refreshingly practical thinking and work coming out of the US Department of Transportation (DOT) as part of its regulatory reform initiative.

Under transportation secretary Elaine Chao and deputy secretary Jeffrey Rosen, DOT is taking a careful look at what it calls “high-impact” rules—those that cost more than $500,000 to implement—and putting them up against a key test: Do their benefits outweigh the cost of their implementation? If, based on rigorous scientific and economic data, the answer is no, then the rule is a no-go.

The goal of DOT regulatory reform is to maintain all safety and consumer protection standards, but to achieve them at less cost and prevent an excess of regulation. Rosen says the overarching idea is that the government, like businesses, should decrease their costs each year because they are spending the public’s money. By preventing unnecessary rules and eliminating those that reduce business flexibility, DOT says it has achieved net savings of $1.5 billion and anticipates another $2 billion in 2019.

This is a welcome return to treating airlines like grown-up businesses. US deregulation has been one of the biggest success stories anywhere, in any industry. Combined with liberalization, it has vastly increased the global market for affordable air travel, which is also safer than ever. 

Other good steps by DOT in its reform initiative include listening to all stakeholders and engaging with lawmakers so that they better understand why some proposed rules would cost more than they are worth. Aviation regulation needs to be understood within the context of the economic stimulus and job creation the industry generates.

US airlines should wholeheartedly support this initiative and demonstrate that they are, indeed, part of a grown-up service industry. Lawmakers need to understand that airline profitability is as acceptable as in any other industry. 

People have more choices than ever in how much (or little) they pay for an airline ticket and what it includes (or does not include). The onus is on airlines—not governments or even travel agents—to make the choices crystal clear and to always treat the customer fairly and well. Airlines should not turn to governments to make customer-related decisions that they’d rather blame on someone else, as in the classic onboard statement, “FAA regulations require that you…” Recent examples in the US include the issues of emotional support animals and the use of phones inflight. Sensitive as these may be, they can be regulated by individual airline policies.

For airlines, as in any service industry, the smaller the hand of governments in their business practices, the better.