Tags: FAA | House | air | Scovel

House Committee Looks at Troubled Air Travel

By    |   Wednesday, 19 November 2014 09:19 AM

One of the first issues taken up by the new Republican Congress is expected to be the state of the infrastructure that supports the government-sponsored enterprise that is the airline industry.

While the Republicans will not assume actual control until the turn of the year, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure moved quickly to hold a hearing on the pending reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Committee is chaired by Rep. William Shuster, R-Penn., whose father Bud chaired the committee and was legendary as a zealous proponent of highway construction. The ranking Democrat is Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, who was defeated in the red wave that has swept through his state in recent cycles.

A sign that the Committee means business is that it assembled nearly all of the leading players in one hearing rather than approaching the task piecemeal over many weeks and months, as committees tend to do. FAA Inspector General Calvin Scovel led off the hearing with a presentation on the state of the infrastructure. It was revealing that Schuster chose to lead with Scovel rather than the head of the FAA. Other witnesses represented the airlines, pilots, air traffic controllers and the business community, indicating recognition of the importance of this infrastructure to the revival of the struggling U.S. economy.

A key question, of course, is going to be who is going to pay for infrastructure investments everyone knows are needed, given the busted state of the federal budget, the tight margins under which the industry operates and the expectation of passengers that fares will be cheap.

In his opening statement, Shuster referred to the history of efforts to reform the FAA since it was created 56 years ago. Not surprisingly, the IG has documented the waste of billions of dollars, which is not a lot in the age of quantitative easing. Shuster pledged that all options will be considered during this authorization process.

Scovel noted that as the agency has sought to carry out reforms, "In general, FAA is not using business-like practices to improve its operational efficiency and cost effectiveness." It's difficult to imagine a more sweeping criticism.

Nicholas Calio, CEO of the industry lobby Airlines for America, stressed the need to reduce chronic travel delays and called for inclusion of a five-pronged National Airline Policy as part of the authorization, along with another initiative known as NextGen, which is supposed to apply modern technology to the modernization of the outdated Air Traffic Control system.

Captain Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, agreed that modernization is needed but also addressed the funding issues directly, joining Calio in blaming the federal budget process. He referred to a proposal by former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta that would create a perennial income stream funded by a combination of federal sources and user fees.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, now president of The Business Roundtable, lamented that the nation's business leadership finds the commercial aviation system to be unreliable. He recounted an effort by The Roundtable to study airline transportation issues with the help of an expert group he assembled. He quoted a recent speech by FAA Administrator Michael Huerta calling for a new, business-like funding plan developed by the FAA's Management Advisory Council.

Engler concluded by endorsing the Council's three recommendations: 1) creation of a funding stream separate from the federal budget that could support the issuance of bonds; 2) a new governance structure for Air Traffic Control, and 3) separating Air Traffic Control from FAA safety regulation in order to establish an arm's length relationship between Air Traffic Control and the regulator.

(Archived video can be found here.)

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One of the first issues taken up by the new Republican Congress is expected to be the state of the infrastructure that supports the government-sponsored enterprise that is the airline industry.
FAA, House, air, Scovel
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 09:19 AM
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