Planes, Trains, and Crony Capitalism

Show Notes

For most Americans, Thanksgiving means family, feasting, and travel. Here at The Drill Down podcast, that means finding out that airlines have been speed-hiring new pilots, that some of them go nuts, and that the man directing the Biden administration’s lavish infrastructure spending used to funnel paving contracts to his cousin when he was mayor of New Orleans.

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us at the Drill Down.

Unless you’re from New Orleans, you may never have heard of Mitch Landrieu. He was previously the mayor of New Orleans before he was tapped by the Biden administration to distribute its infrastructure funds.

The infrastructure bill passed by Congress was long on money and short on auditing.. The 2,000-page law mentions the cautionary word “fraud” just seven times, Schweizer says.

“The problem we have with this kind of spending is, they throw money out of a helicopter,” Peter Schweizer says. “They just want it out there we want it out there; they don’t care where it goes.”

But it will all be fine because Mitch Landrieu’s in charge. While he was mayor of the Crescent City, Landrieu managed to steer millions of federal infrastructure dollars for concrete replacement to his cousin’s concrete company.

Since it was wracked by the Covid lockdowns imposed by the federal government in 2020, the airline industry has been trying to hire pilots as fast as possible. Once travelers began to return to the skies, airlines that hustled many of their senior pilots to an early retirement had to replace those veterans. The airlines have hired nearly 10,000 pilots so far this year and may overtake the 13,000 pilots they hired last year, according to, a pilot career advisory firm. That is up from about 5,400 in 2021, which had been the busiest year for pilot hiring in decades.

As a recent Wall Street Journal article reports, all that hiring leads to training and experience challenges. Pilots are moving through the process faster than before. Major carriers are hiring pilots sooner and with less experience from the smaller regional carriers than previously. Pilots used to flying smaller planes need time to learn to operate the larger aircraft confidently, learning new procedures, controls, and quirks.

That can lead to close calls. In August, a Delta Air Lines pilot fresh from training flights on the Boeing 757 landed a jet in Atlanta that lacked a working anti-skid system, which works like ABS on a car. Typically, that might not be considered enough of a problem to prevent the plane from flying. In this case, though, when the plane landed at least one of its tires blew and one of its landing gear caught fire, prompting an emergency response. Passengers had to evacuate the plane via inflatable slides.

And there have been incidents with the pilots as well. A former Delta pilot was recently indicted by a federal grand jury in Utah for interfering with the crew of a commercial airline flight, after he allegedly intimidated his co-pilot with a firearm during a commercial flight last year.

Last week, off-duty pilot Joseph D. Emerson of California was charged with trying to crash an Alaska Airlines flight. Emerson, 44, was riding off-duty in the cockpit jump seat on a flight between Seattle and San Francisco when, according to court documents, he announced, “I’m not okay” and pulled both of the aircraft’s engine fire extinguisher handles. If not for the crew’s quick intervention, that would have extinguished the 24-ton jet’s engines, turning it into an engineless glider.

Emerson later told police that he had not slept in 40 hours, recently experimented with ‘magic’ mushrooms, and had been depressed for months, if not years.