Washington Report: Retooling the FAA

 - May 8, 2008, 6:31 AM

Although the bill is called the Aviation Industry and Reform Act and is designed to give more financial relief to the airline industry, H.R.5506 also contains provisions
to reform some parts of the FAA and exempts some foreign pilots who come to the
U.S. for recurrent training from undergoing Justice Department background checks.

Introduced in the House by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, H.R.5506 was written to address some of the needs of an aviation industry that has shown little signs of recovery since 9/11.

But following hearings in the past few months on the financial state of the industry and on the problems associated with attracting an FAA chief operating officer (COO) and with ATC oversight board, Mica included some provisions that would address what he has often called a “dysfunctional” FAA.

Just before leaving office, President Clinton issued an executive order directing the FAA to create a performance-based organization (PBO) to manage the operation of ATC services. It called for the Secretary of Transportation to establish within the FAA a PBO to be known as the Air Traffic Organization (ATO), headed by a COO and overseen by a five-member subcommittee of the FAA Management Advisory Council (MAC).

The position of the COO and the five-member subcommittee of the MAC were actually created by Congress in the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), but Clinton added the concept of a PBO, a proposal that had been rejected by Congress when it crafted AIR-21.

Under Mica’s bill, the Air Traffic Services Board (ATSB) would be separated from the MAC–where it is now a subcommittee–and made a standalone board within the FAA, with the FAA Administrator as its chairman. Compensation for members of the ATSB would be eliminated. H.R.5506 also would allow several vacancies on the MAC to be filled without Senate confirmation.

Recognizing the difficulty that Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has
had in recruiting a COO, H.R.5506 would make the COO responsible for “implementing the strategic plan” rather than “developing the strategic plan” and for “overseeing day-to-day operations of the air traffic control system” rather than “reviewing operations of that system.” It would require the COO to develop a comprehensive plan with specific performance goals for managing cost-reimbursable contracts as recommended by the Transportation Department’s inspector general.

Aviation officials, including former FAA Administrator Jane Garvey, had recommended that changes needed to be made in the job duties of COO to attract more interest from potential candidates.

The bill also includes several provisions relating to aviation security. It would exempt foreign commercial pilots coming to the U.S. for recurrent training on aircraft weighing more than 12,500 lb from submitting to extensive background checks, required under the Aviation and Trans- portation Security Act adopted last Nov- ember. The House measure is in line with a similar proposal approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in September.

H.R.5506 deletes a requirement that there be federal law-enforcement officers at all airports and permits local law-enforcement officers to perform that function.
It would also require the head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conduct a threat assessment for airports; allow airline employees with a disqualifying crime on their record to apply for waivers to keep their jobs; allow only citizens of U.S. territories and possessions to be screeners; and exempt military charters performed by civilian aircraft from the provisions of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act.