The debacles that played out on both sides of the Atlantic as 2018 melted into 2019 appear, on the surface, to be about different issues.

But the US government partial shutdown over border wall funding and the UK’s apparent inability to figure out how to deliver the outcome of its Brexit referendum share common roots: an almost insane willingness for governments—even those of great democracies—not to govern.

This magazine’s responsibility is not to comment, nor take sides, on the political issues here: wall versus no wall; Brexit versus ... well, what would it be? Bremain?

But it is ATW’s task to cover and comment on the harm, real and potential, that such political intransigence inflicts on the commercial air transport industry. Whether that intransigence is a symptom of people’s refusal to see another viewpoint—and therefore to allow an elected representative to negotiate a compromise—or a reflection of elected officials increasingly inciting people to dig in at all costs, is another discussion beyond an air transport business magazine’s scope.

The consequences of non-negotiation and non-leadership, however, will fall heavily on the shoulders of this industry, which thrives on open, free trade agreements—often dubbed Open Skies in aviation—and the ability for people to easily travel where they want to go and for goods to find a market. 

Troublesome as they may be, the logistical problems for commercial aviation caused by the US shutdown and potentially a “no-deal” Brexit (see page 7) are not the real threat. Queues may grow at TSA screening points and UK airport customs and immigration facilities. In the US, some aircraft deliveries requiring FAA sign-off may be delayed. In the UK, airlines may not be able to add flights or capacity over their 2018 levels. Patience will be tested, but these will not, in themselves, do long-term damage. 

What will cause the industry to wither—maybe rapidly so—is a recession. And the reckless failures of US and UK governments to govern could place both nations on that path, sucking the global economy down with them. Where travel gets too difficult or risky; where trade gets too cumbersome or costly, travelers and trade either cut back or go elsewhere. And then recession bites and travel and trade budgets are slashed; and airlines quit worrying about oil and labor costs.

When airlines fail and airports shrink, their local economies retract. 

This is an industry full of excellent, innovative, creative leaders—at airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers, government agencies, nongovernment organizations, research organizations and labor representatives. In some of their most important markets, they are being badly let down by those who were elected to lead.