Congressional Observer September 2004

 - March 22, 2007, 9:42 AM

• Congress dodged the dog days of August by taking a six-week recess beginning July 22, but not before legislators increased their bills introduced count to 2,772 in the Senate and 5,001 in the House of Representatives. Even the Scarecrow, who wishes for a brain in the Wizard of Oz, could calculate that legislators in this 108th Congress have just too much on their plates and that time will run out, leaving behind a substantial number of uneaten bills.

• There was a flurry of activity in Washington before members of Congress left for the hinterlands. In their desire to show support for the military before the upcoming elections, Congress did pass a $417.5 billion defense spending bill by a vote of 96 to 0 in the Senate and 410 to 12 in the House. This includes $25 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and 7 percent more for the rest of the Department of Defense programs. This bill is the first of 13 spending bills, due by September 30, to finance government agencies for Fiscal Year 2005.

• The House Appropriations Committee reported on an $89.9 billion Department of Transportation appropriations bill that provides $14 billion for the FAA, including $7.7 billion for FAA operations to be paid for with $6 billion out of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and $1.7 billion from the general treasury fund. The bill reflects an increase of $238 million for operations, $916.9 million for aviation regulations and certification, $224 million for research and acquisition, $69.8 million for human resources and $86 million for the contract tower program. There is a provision for $7 million to hire and train new air traffic controllers, but a pending Senate proposal would boost that number to $14 million. The FAA estimates that half of the nation’s 15,000 controllers will be eligible for retirement before 2013, and the mandatory retirement age of 56 will play a part in departures. The committee also adopted language encouraging the DOT to support programs that would reimburse general aviation businesses at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and three airports within 15 miles of DCA that have suffered financial losses since 9/11.

Unfortunately, the committee did not provide funding to back up its good intentions. Congress has authorized compensation up to $100 million for those losses but has not put any money on the table.

• By a vote of 423 to 0 (not voting were 11), the House passed H.R.4056, the Commercial Aviation Manpads [man-portable air defense systems] Defense Act of 2004, introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a bill that would equip commercial aircraft with antimissile devices. The bill would also ready airports for the implementation of those defense systems and establish programs to reduce the number of Manpads worldwide so that fewer of those missiles would be available for sale or trade.

• The Senate confirmed Rear Admiral David Stone as the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for the Transportation Security Administration, where he has been serving as the acting administrator since early December, a position vacated by Admiral James Loy. Stone has been making rather frequent appearances in front of congressional committees while awaiting the confirmation. General aviation people will remember the March 16 House aviation subcommittee hearing at DCA when Stone occupied the hottest seat in the hangar as he tried to answer barbed committee questions.

• A July 28 letter by a bipartisan group of 16 members of the House of Representatives to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge urged the opening of DCA to general aviation aircraft. The letter reminded Ridge that Public Law 108-176 (Vision 100) directed him to “develop and implement a security plan to permit general aviation aircraft to land and take off at Reagan National Airport.” Legislators said they understood that Ridge will not allow small aircraft to use DCA through December 31 and requested that he release the appropriate sections of the Homeland Security plan that provide security guidelines so that operators can move forward to comply with the plan. In view of the number of government/industry meetings on the subject, Ridge should not be at all surprised by the legislators’ request. In the meantime, the speculation is that Ridge will resign if President Bush is re-elected in November. Ridge is said to be concerned about his personal finances and the job stress that comes with reorganizing the 22 different agencies that form his Homeland Security Department.

• S.2726, the Flight Attendant Security Training Act, introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), would require the FAA Administrator, in consultation with the Under Secretary of the Transportation Security Administration (and other agencies), to develop detailed guidance for a scheduled passenger air carrier flight and cabin crew training program to prepare crewmembers to deal with potential threat conditions.

• S.2772, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), would promote the development of the emerging commercial human spaceflight industry, extend the liability indemnification regime for the commercial space transportation industry and authorize appropriations.

• H.R.4801, introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), would require the FAA Administrator to issue an order requiring the installation of secondary barriers to prevent access to the flight deck of any commercial aircraft operating under FAR Part 121 and require that such secondary barriers remain locked while the aircraft is in flight and the cockpit door separating the flight deck and the passenger area is open.

• H.R.4868, introduced by Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-N.J.), would direct the Secretary of Transportation to conduct a test to determine the costs and benefits of requiring jet aircraft taking off from Newark Liberty International Airport, N.J., to climb over the ocean instead of over land.

• H.R.4914, the Aviation Biometric Technology Utilization Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), would clarify the importance of using existing, as well as emerging, biometric technology to improve aviation security, including airport perimeter access security.

• Now is a good time to remind business aircraft operators who might be inclined to provide air transportation to candidates for federal elective office to review the rules and regulations for providing such transportation.