Posts Tagged ‘air traffic control’

Is "Straight Talk Express" now the regional affiliate of Straight Talk Air?

Is "Straight Talk Express" now the regional affiliate of Air McCain?

I haven’t had any luck getting the McCain campaign to fill me in on the details of his aviation plan (if he has one). His website has one mention of aviation, and it’s a throwaway press release on the air traffic control communications outage in August with a boilerplate call for reform in Washington. However, his twenty-six years in Washington and his chairmanship of the Senate committee that oversees aviation mean he has a pretty wide paper trail. Two of the most important issues on which he’s weighed in are air traffic control modernization (and how to fund it) and international aviation agreements.

John McCain has a track record of supporting market-based air traffic control reforms. In a 2001 interview with General Aviation News, which is full of revealing nuggets, he discussed a Reason Foundation report proposing a commercialized, nonprofit government corporation to provide air traffic control services (much like NAV CANADA). The interviewer was especially concerned about McCain’s support for user fees, the bete noire of the general-aviation community, and asked: “You have advocated ATC user fees in the past. Do you continue to support that approach?” McCain replied:

While there are a number of ideas about how to fund the aviation system, I have not yet come to a final conclusion about the best solution. The Commerce Committee will continue to examine different proposals and ideas, including a user-fee system. As I have often stated publicly, I am always open to new and fresh ideas on how to provide the proper funding to ensure a safe and efficient air-transportation system. The issue of user fees is closely linked to funding for the FAA, which is absolutely critical to the future of aviation in our country. The national air transportation system needs a predictable and reliable funding stream that is not subject to unnecessary budget pressures and gimmicks. A positive step in the right direction was the funding provided through the most recent FAA reauthorization bill, commonly known as AIR-21. But AIR-21 is not a permanent solution, and ensuring adequate funding for the long-term future of aviation remains a challenge.

While avoiding an endorsement of the Reason proposal, McCain did promise to include commercialization in the Commerce Committee deliberations on ATC: “However, the issue of ATC modernization is certainly an issue that the Commerce Committee will be looking into this year, and I expect ATC privatization will be included in the overall scope of the debate.”

User fees seem to appeal to McCain’s populist political persona and rhetoric. While acknowledging that user fees should not be structured to harm recreational users, he assails business jets’ use of the system: (more…)

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I previously wrote about Barack Obama’s aviation plan; today’s post is about the one aviation-related bill he’s introduced in Congress, the FAA Fair Labor Management Dispute Resolution Act of 2006 (S 2201). The bill, which never made it out of committee, would have amended the FAA’s personnel management procedures so that the FAA administrator would be unable to impose work rules in stalled labor negotiations without congressional assent. If Congress were not to act on the FAA administrator’s proposed work rules within sixty days, any contract-negotiation impasse would instead have to be submitted to binding arbitration.

Air traffic controllers have been working under these imposed work rules for two years this month. According to the Wall Street Journal, “[T]he FAA imposed contract terms on the union after negotiators failed to reach a deal on pay and working conditions. The FAA ended up imposing significant pay cuts for new controllers and froze salaries of others, along with setting new work rules.” (For more on this, see the controllers’ union and ATC blogs like Get the Flick and The FAA Follies.) Obama’s legislation would have required the FAA to give in and submit to neutral, binding arbitration in its negotiations with the controllers, as the work rules would never have made it past a Democratic Congress (or even perhaps a Republican one — remember, aviation issues don’t break down evenly along party lines).

Labor organizations, including NATCA and AFSCME, supported S 2201. NATCA endorsed Obama for president largely on the strength of this legislation: (more…)

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Welcome, new readers! For more blogging on aviation politics, click here.

First of all, big props to Obama and his campaign team for actually having a transportation agenda [PDF]. The McCain campaign devotes a whole section to manned space exploration but can’t spare a word for aviation. So, to Obama, an A for effort.

Now let’s dig into the plan:

As our society becomes more mobile and interconnected, the need for 21st-century transportation networks has never been greater. However, too many of our nation’s railways, highways, bridges, airports, and neighborhood streets are slowly decaying due to lack of investment and strategic long-term planning. Barack Obama believes that America’s long-term competitiveness depends on the stability of our critical infrastructure. As president, Obama will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority.

Barack Obama believes that it is critically important for the United States to rebuild its national transportation infrastructure — its highways, bridges, roads, ports, air, and train systems — to strengthen user safety, bolster our long-term competitiveness and ensure our economy continues to grow. Investing in national infrastructure is especially important in our efforts to bolster our homeland security to meet international terrorism and natural disaster threats. . . .  Barack Obama will address the infrastructure challenge by creating a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank to expand and enhance, not supplant, existing federal transportation investments. This independent entity will be directed to invest in our nation’s most challenging transportation infrastructure needs. The Bank will receive an infusion of federal money, $60 billion over 10 years, to provide financing to transportation infrastructure projects across the nation.

Worthy goals. One of the core functions of government is to provide for infrastructure development and maintenance. How will this money be allocated? By DOT, or by Congress? Political realities mandate, for example, that Airport Improvement Fund monies go disproportionately to airports that do not need them as much as the highly trafficked and congested commercial hubs. How it gets allocated is key. (more…)

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Barack Obama has been watching the Olympics and marveling at how amazing China’s infrastructure is.

Here’s the text:

Everybody’s watching what’s going on in Beijing right now with the Olympics. Think about the amount of money that China has spent on infrastructure. Their ports, their train systems, their airports are vastly superior to us now, which means if you are a corporation deciding where to do business, you’re starting to think, “Beijing looks like a pretty good option.”

China’s infrastructure may indeed look impressive, but I wouldn’t say that “their airports are vastly superior to us now.” The new Beijing airport is very fancy, but according to Anming Zhang and Andrew Yuen of the University of British Columbia, “travel delays have become a serious problem at some of the major Chinese airports,” the military has a chokehold on air traffic control and routing, and air traffic control staffing is at “20-40 percent of the level needed to meet the minimum safety standards” (much worse than the FAA’s staffing shortages). To the extent that China’s aviation system has improved, it is as a result of liberalization and privatization. (See their chapter in Aviation Infrastructure Performance.)

But let’s assume for a moment that China does actually have a better transportation infrastructure than we do. How did they get it? By being a repressive, authoritarian regime. If the Party wants to build something, it does! It’s easy to displace ten thousand people to expand your airport, or two million to build the Olympic complex. Compare this to Chicago O’Hare, whose long-awaited expansion continues to be impeded by homeowners protecting their property in court. (Of course, given Obama’s connections to Mayor Richard Daley, perhaps he secretly admires Daley’s “easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission” approach to airport planning.)

There’s none of this messy environmental review process in Beijing. That’s one of the main reasons it takes so long to build a runway here. And China takes advantage of cheap labor in terrible working conditions. Here, governments are required by the Davis-Bacon Act to pay prevailing (read: union) wages for public works projects, which drives up costs further. Obama supports Davis-Bacon and cosponsored legislation in 2005 to repeal George W. Bush’s suspension of Davis-Bacon in Katrina-afflicted areas. Is Obama really admiring China for its exploitation of labor?

No, the Olympics are just another excuse for Obama to beat up on the Bush administration. Fair enough, it’s an election; but he owes it to us to get the facts straight. The United States has an infrastructure problem. We have especially failed to provide an aviation infrastructure that can grow to meet demand. Looking to China will not provide useful solutions.

H/T: Hot Air

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The House aviation subcommittee is holding a hearing today on air traffic control facility staffing, “including concerns about staffing alignment and training at such facilities.” Here is the subcommittee’s background paper. Here’s what happened today:

Panel I

Hank Krakowski, the COO of the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) is the first witness. He first emphasizes the agency’s safety record in light of steep challenges. “Combination of training, teamwork, and technology” is the cause. FAA is convening a fatigue safety summit next week to address fatigue on the part of pilots and controllers. “We plan to hire 2000 controllers this year.” ATO is deploying more high-powered training simulators for controllers. ATO is also offering incentives to retain controllers eligible for retirement. He also says he is working with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) on hammering out a new contract.

Department of Transportation inspector general Calvin L. Scovel speaks next. The IG’s office has just complete a report on the issue of ATC staffing. See the inspector general’s report here [PDF]. FAA sees more controllers retiring than projected, but it is hiring more than projected. This is producing an overall less experienced workforce. Scovel’s recommendations: (1) FAA must improve control facility training. Must set standards for how much of a share of all controllers “developmental controllers” (i.e., trainees) may make up at a facility. It must clarify and centralize the organizational structure of the training process. (2) “FAA must address controller human factors” — situational awareness, fatigue, etc. Especially important with the influx of new controllers. (3) FAA must ensure “consistency and accuracy” in reporting controllers’ operational errors with respect to runway incursions, etc. The agency has in the past relied on self-reporting, which has not been sufficiently successful.

Next up: Gerald Dillingham of the Government Accountability Office. (more…)

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Congestion at major airports at peak travel times (and the consequent inability of passengers to whom time is very valuable to get the delay-free travel they would willingly pay for) obviously means to an economist that the pertinent government authorities have on the one hand failed efficiently to expand airport and air traffic control capacity and, on the other, to price those scarce facilities at their marginal opportunity costs. No wonder there are shortages.

Alfred Kahn, “Surprises of Airline Deregulation,” American Economic Review 78, no. 2 (May 1988).

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When stories like this come through my reader, I tend to ignore them — after all, opening military airspace to passenger traffic has a negligible impact on congestion. The last thing I need to do is read more high-ranking officials’ vapid statements, like the president’s last fall: “We’ve got a problem. We understand there’s a problem. And we’re going to address the problem.” Thanks for clearing that up!

But I couldn’t help but chuckle at Mike Boyd’s trenchant commentary today on Transportation Secretary Mary Peters’s latest initiative:

WASHINGTON (AP) To help ease airline delays over the busy Memorial Day weekend, commercial flights off the East Coast will be able to use military airspace, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Thursday.

“It gives airlines a fighting chance to beat delays by allowing them to plan new routes” in one of the country’s most congested aviation corridors, Peters said

Here are a couple of facts:

Fact one: The “busy” Memorial Day weekend was no busier in the skies than any other weekend. No more flights were operated compared to any other week-end. Less, actually, as some carriers – such as Southwest – flew reduced schedules in the middle of the period. There was no more –  or less – potential for delayed flights than any other day.

Fact two: Delays are driven by Ms. Peters’ incompetently managed, understaffed, and under-planned ATC system. Delays are not the result of high passenger volumes – and it’s inexcusable for a person in her position to not know better. Or worse, try to mis-inform the public. To act as if she’s trying to help the airline industry with “their” delay problem is like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow giving lectures to the Chicago Fire Department.

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