Congressional Observer: August 2002

 - May 6, 2008, 11:43 AM

In the midst of all the major funding and other legislation, a number of aviation matters were addressed:

• On June 4 President Bush amended Executive Order 13180 that would strip air traffic controllers of their inherently governmental function status. A number of congressmen took to the floor of the House to denounce this action as leading toward privatization of the ATC system. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Pa.) pointed out that Great Britain and Canada privatized their air traffic control systems and both have run into massive debts, increasing costs for airlines and thus consumers. Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ariz.) said, “I do not want my family or other Americans to board commercial airliners where the traffic in the sky is controlled by the lowest bidder.” Other Congressmen echoed similar sentiments.

• The House Appropriations Committee took off on the new Transportation Security Administration, which is seeking a $4.4 billion supplemental budget request. Committee members wanted to know why the agency needed thousands of hand-wand operators, exit watchers, ticket checkers and coordinators checking out lines. Said Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House appropriations transportation subcommittee, “The agency is running out of money like a young child whose money burns a hole in the pocket. We will not hire a standing army of 70,000 people to screen your bags, take off your shoes and check your briefcases three times.”

• The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved H.R.4635, The Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Don Young (R-Alaska) and aviation subcommittee chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), that would create a two-year program allowing for the arming up to 1,400 airline pilots. An amendment mandates that the Department of Transportation study the number of armed federal law-enforcement officers who travel on airlines each year, the frequency of travel and the cost and resources needed for aircraft anti-terrorism training similar to federal air marshal training. Airlines would be protected from liability. Similar Senate legislation has strong opponents, and no immediate action was anticipated. The Committee also approved H.R. 3479, The National Aviation Capacity Expansion Act, sponsored by Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), that relates to enlarging Chicago O’Hare Airport and other facilities in the Chicago area.

• By a vote of 284 to 143 the House passed H.R.1979, sponsored by Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). The legislation will allow small airports to use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) monies for new tower construction and allow airports to be reimbursed for previous tower construction. Airports would be required to qualify for the contract tower program and pay a 10-percent “local share” of the construction costs.

• Several aviation groups are up in arms over a letter sent by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) to his Senate colleagues in which he lodged a protest with DOT Secretary Norman Mineta that asked for pre-boarding security similar to airlines on all charter aircraft weighing more than 12,500 lb. In his letter to Mineta, Kohl said, “It is beyond my comprehension that passengers on a 60-seat jet would not have to undergo even the most cursory of checks to make sure they do not [possess] weapons. Why wouldn’t a well funded terrorist choose to charter such an airplane and use it as a weapon against those on the ground?” Kohl also pointed out that a fully fueled 91,000-lb GV would have more explosive power than any conventional weapon used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and that passengers and their baggage on a chartered GV would not need to be searched under the proposed rules.

• S.2642, sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), would require background checks of alien flight-school applicants without regard to the maximum certified weight of the aircraft for which they seek training.

• H.R.4653, The Aeronautics Research and Development Revitalization Act of 2002, sponsored by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), would enable the U.S. to maintain its leadership in aeronautics and aviation by instituting an initiative to develop technologies that enable future aircraft with significantly lower noise, emissions and fuel consumption and to reinvigorate basic and applied research in aeronautics and aviation.

• H.R.5014, sponsored by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.), would provide a credit toward the non-federal share of projects carried out under the airport improvement program for an airport that is used to respond to a disaster or emergency.