The Los Angeles International Airport North Airfield Safety Study Final Report (“Final Report”), published on May 11, 2010, looks very much like the draft. The Final Report, like the draft, concluded that no safety problem exists on the two runways of the North Airfield. It further concludes that an additional separation of the runways by 340 feet is unnecessary for safety purposes, although useful for increasing capacity. Finally, the study concludes that an additional separation of 100 feet, originally proposed by the Cities of Inglewood and El Segundo, which would allow the addition of a center taxiway, would be sufficient to accommodate any remaining safety concerns. The study, however, reaches the correct conclusions for the wrong reasons.
On November 10, 2009, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood posted a blog on the Department of Transportation website entitled "The FAA, an Active and Vigilant Partner in Aviation Safety." In his post, Secretary LaHood made the point that the Federal Aviation Adminsitration is seeking to be proactive with respect to safety and "move aggressively to…
On Wednesday, July 29, 2009, the bipartisan leadership of both the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure and the Subcommittee on Aviation introduced H.R. 3371, the "Aviation Safety Bill" designed to "enhance airline safety by setting new training and service standards for commercial pilots." This bill came primarily as a response to the Senate Commerce Committee’s passage…
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Wednesday, June 10, 2009, that small regional airlines are held to the same safety standards as the major carriers. Babbitt says he and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood are ensuring that the FAA is taking steps to ensure that that is the practice as well as the law. However, FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovell says that is not currently the case.
Subcommittee Chair Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) opened the hearing with the statement that he was concerned that there is a double standard in aviation instead of "one level of safety for both regional and major carriers." This issue has come to the forefront since the crash of Colgan Air flight in Buffalo, raising issues of pilot training, proficiency and pay at regional airlines. The investigation into that crash has revealed that the pilot flew cross country as a passenger on a flight the night before and lacked experience in the deicing procedures for the type of aircraft that crashed.
FAA Administrator Babbitt said that the same safety laws and regulations apply across the board to all airlines, regardless of whether they are regional or national in scope. That being said, Administrator Babbitt stated that there is much to be done to improve safety and that he and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood are committed to focusing on inspection of aircraft and safety.
FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovell, however, stated that although the laws and regulations may be the same, in practice there are two standards. He stated that he was particularly concerned about the difference between pilots’ training and level of flight experience in the two types of airlines. The major airlines did not escape the hearing unscathed. Scovell also testified that there have been many lapses in oversight of the major airlines’ technical programs, similar to the problems that came to light last summer concerning Southwest Airlines. In particular, he was concerned that 7 major airlines missed "Air Transportation Oversight Systems" inspections, some had been allowed to lapse "well beyond the 5-year inspection cycle."
NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker also had some choices remarks for the FAA. He informed the panel that the FAA has failed to heed recommendations suggested by the NTSB that would produce greater safety. When asked how many recommended changes were outstanding, Chairman Rosenker stated that there about 450 recommendations still outstanding with some 10 – 15 years old. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cal.) called this an "outrage" and an indictment of the FAA, "it is not about anyone personally, it is the institution, it is the way they think, and it is very disturbing to me."
In the end, Administrator Babbitt promised to consider the NTSB recommendations, and although the FAA will not adopt them all, he would make the FAA "more transparent" about the process.
Click on "continue reading" to see list of written statements and link to the archived webcast of the hearing.
The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has proposed H.R. 915, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009. Since funding authorization for aviation programs and authorization for taxes and fees that provide revenue for the FAA expired at the end of fiscal year 2007 and revenue collections and FAA programs have been extended several times (until March 31, 2009), this bill is a priority item for the FAA. What follows is a summary of the provisions of the Reauthorization Bill.
Funding & Financing
- Taxes on aviation users will be increased – Passenger flight segment tax increased to $3.60; International departure and arrival taxes increased to $16.10; Alaska Hawaii facilities tax increased to $8.00.
- Provides historic funding levels for the FAA’s programs between 2009 and 2012, including $16.2 billion for AIP; $13.4 billion for Facilities and Equipment; $38.9 billion for operations; and $1.35 billion for Research, Engineering and Development.
- Makes several modifications to the current AIP distribution formula that provide significant increases in AIP funding for smaller airports, which are particularly reliant on AIP for capital financing, as well as more AIP discretionary funding.
- Increases Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $7.00. This provision was strongly supported by Jim Elwood, representing the American Association of Airport Executives.
ATC Modernization and NextGen
- Provides $13.4 billion for the FAA’s Facilities and Equipment account.
- Increases the authority and visibility of the Joint Planning and Development Office.
- Requires the JPDO to develop a work plan that details, on a year-by-year basis, specific NextGen-related deliverables and milestones.
- FAA wants to emphasize "infrastructure" improvements at the nations’ airports, which includes a full roll-out of NextGen.
- Includes several safety provisions, such as authorizing additional funds for runway incursion reduction programs and the acquisition and installation of runway status lights.
- Increases the number of aviation safety inspectors and requires safety inspections of foreign repair stations at least twice a year.
- Directs FAA to commence a rulemaking to ensure that covered maintenance work on air carrier aircraft is performed by part 145 repair stations or part 121 air carriers.
- Creates an independent Aviation Safety Whistleblower Investigation Office within the FAA charged with receiving safety complaints and information submitted by both FAA employees and employees of certificated entities.
- Directs FAA to modify its “customer service initiative” to remove air carriers or other entities regulated by the FAA as “customers.”
- Adds a two-year “post-service” cooling off period for FAA inspectors and requires principal maintenance inspectors to rotate between airline oversight offices every five years.
- Increases the total amount authorized for Essential Air Services each year from $127 million to $200 million.
- Requires 50% of over-flight fees collected in excess of $50 million be dedicated to EAS.
- Authorizes the Secretary to enter into long-term EAS contracts that would provide more stability for participating air carriers.
- Reduces local share of AIP projects from 10% to 5% for economically depressed communities.
- Includes several provisions to mitigate the effects of increases in aviation fuel costs by increasing the existing $200 per passenger subsidy cap.
- Extends the Small Community Air Service Development Program through fiscal year 2011, at the current authorized funding level of $35 million per year.
- Includes several provisions to ensure passenger needs are met including a mandate that air carriers and airports submit emergency contingency plans and detail in their plans how they allow passengers to deplane following excessive delays.
- DOT is required to publicize and maintain a hotline for consumer complaints, establish an Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, expand consumer complaints investigated, and require air carriers to report diverted and canceled flight information monthly.
- DOT Inspector General is asked to report on the causes of air carrier flight delays and cancellations.
- Includes several provisions related to the environment, noise mitigation and land use initiatives, including:
- An environmental mitigation pilot program;
- The phasing out of noisy Stage II aircraft;
- An aircraft departure queue management pilot program;
- Broadened AIP eligibility to include several energy saving terminal projects; and
- Requirements for the FAA to build sustainable air traffic control facilities.
- Allows airport operators to reinvest the proceeds from the sale of land that an airport acquired for a noise compatibility purpose, but no longer needs for that purpose, giving priority, in descending order to:
- Reinvestment in another noise compatibility project;
- Environmentally-related project
- Another otherwise-eligible AIP project;
- Transfer to another public airport for a noise compatibility project; or
- Payment to the Trust Fund.
- Provides authorization for the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise (“CLEEN”) Engine and Airframe Technology partnership to develop, mature and certify CLEEN engine and airframe technology for aircraft over the next 10 years.
- Modifies the dispute resolution process for proposed changes to the FAA personnel management system, and replaces it with a new dispute resolution process.
- Applies the new dispute resolution process to the ongoing dispute between NATCA and the FAA. That is the changes implemented by the FAA on and after July 10, 2005, would be null and void and the parties will be governed by their last mutual agreement.
- Amends the Railway Labor Act to clarify that employees of an “express carrier” shall only be covered by the RLA if they are employed in a position that is eligible for certification under FAA’s rules and they are actually performing that type of work for the express carrier.
- Requires an assessment of training programs for controllers and air traffic technicians.
- Requires that FAA include employee unions as stakeholders in the development and planning for NextGen.
- Requires the establishment of a Task Force on Air Traffic Control Facility Conditions to determine whether employees are exposed to dangerous environmental conditions in their work place.
- Requires the Secretary to establish within the FAA a working group to develop criteria and make recommendations for the realignment and consolidation of services and facilities.
- Extends requirement until September 30, 2012, that the FAA provide U.S. airlines’ aviation insurance from the first dollar of loss at capped premium rates, after which the requirement becomes discretionary until September 30, 2019.
- After December 31, 2019, such insurance must be provided instead by airline industry-sponsored risk-sharing arrangement approved by the Secretary.
Next Article: Summary of Comments regarding Safety Provisions.
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