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Posts Tagged ‘Aviation08’

On September 4, Popular Mechanics took a look at the candidates’ aviation policies. Here are some highlights:

On user fees:

While the [FAA reauthorization] bill was still in committee, McCain voted against an amendment to eliminate the new $25-per-flight user fee on general aviation. Since the legislation never made it to the full senate, it isn’t known how Obama would have voted. Interestingly, McCain’s vice-presidential pick, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, is a strong supporter of general aviation interests—not surprising in a state heavily dependent on private flying. Last year Palin signed a resolution opposing new general aviation fees.

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On air traffic control:

Obama favors hiring more air traffic controllers and has sponsored legislation to force the FAA to return to the bargaining table with the controllers, who have been without a contract for nearly two years even as many older controllers retire. In a statement outlining his transportation policies, Obama says he will direct the FAA to “restore morale and improve working conditions and operations at the agency.” McCain has indicated he might favor a move to privatize ATC, which has occurred in Great Britain and a number of other industrialized nations.

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On airline regulation:

McCain has a longer track record in the Senate than Obama, and during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee he seized briefly on airline “passenger rights” issues, which would have imposed a welter of new regulations designed to improve customer service and reduce delays. He later backed off when the airlines promised to police themselves; he has not mentioned the subject during this campaign.

Obama has not taken a formal stand on economic regulation of the airlines, but some observers expect a Democratic administration to be more sympathetic to calls for government intervention.

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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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Did you know?

John McCain’s eldest son is an American Airlines pilot:

Doug McCain has been a pilot with American Airlines since 1990. He currently flies as a First Officer on the Boeing 777 out of JFK International Airport. Prior to American Airlines, he flew the A6-E Intruder in The United States Navy. While in the Navy, he deployed twice to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS America CV-66 and aboard the USS Eisenhower CVN-69. He made 256 carrier landings including 88 at night.

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In the first mention of aviation I’ve heard during either convention’s primetime speeches, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee gave a brief shoutout to airline workers: “If you’re a flight attendant or baggage handler and you’re asked to take a pay cut to keep your job, you want something to change.” Amen!

It was a one of the best speeches of the GOP convention thus far. Unlike so much stilted and predictable convention oratory, Huckabee can spin a great yarn, and he infuses his speeches with the melodic cadences of the best Baptist preachers.

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Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, like LaGuardia in New York, is well-known for its perimeter restrictions. Flights are limited to 1,250 miles from the airport. This restriction, which dates to 1969, is due in part to noise concerns but more to a kind of industrial policy: the desire to drive long-haul traffic from the desirable, close-in National (almost no big-city airport is as convenient) to the then-new Dulles International Airport in what was then the middle of nowhere in Virginia.

Dulles has since come into its own. It is one of the nation’s busiest airports with room to grow, a hub for United, and a link to dozens of intercontinental destinations. Dulles serves widebodies that National cannot. And more importantly, Dulles is no longer in the middle of nowhere. It’s at the junction of booming Fairfax and Loudoun counties and close to major business centers like Tysons Corner.

There is little risk of Dulles disappearing if the perimeter rules at National are removed. That has been one of John McCain’s biggest aviation policy priorities — and one he has had ample opportunity to pursue from his perch on the Senate Commerce Committee. You might find it funny that a powerful senator would care much about a sole airport’s operations, but you see, members of Congress love to interfere in the management of National, whether it’s mandating that the D.C. Metro system change its signs to reflect the “Reagan” name change or intervening to protect a home-state flight. Congress is perfectly parochial: in March, Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and McCain joined to sponsor legislation allowing airlines with slots at National to use them for beyond-perimeter flights (S 2783). Virginia Representative Jim Moran, a Democrat whose district includes the airport, opposes any such loosening, fearing that noise will increase for his constituents.

McCain has sponsored other legislation with respect to the perimeter. He was responsible for language in the 1999 FAA reauthorization act that permitted twelve round-trip flights outside the perimeter. These slots would have (and eventually did) benefit McCain’s hometown airline, America West. Now US Airways, it continues to serve Phoenix thrice daily from National airport.

In July 2005, McCain introduced S 1599, the “Abolishing Aviation Barriers Act of 2005,” which would have abolished perimeter restrictions at National and prevented enforcement of the perimeter at LaGuardia. The legislation, cosponsored by Ensign and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), didn’t get out of committee, but it should have. McCain clearly has parochial interests at stake: direct flights to his home state and benefits for his hometown airline.

Even so, the perimeter rule is out of date. Dulles is not Montreal-Mirabel; there’s no need to protect it anymore. A better way to drive flights to Dulles (or the other competitive D.C.-area airport, Baltimore-Washington) would be to place a strict cap on National flights and raise landing fees to an optimal level.

(Side note on National: if you take the footpath from the Metro station to Terminal A, as I do when I travel for Christmas, you’ll notice a parking lot right next to the terminal entrance with license plates from all over the country and congressional placards in the windshields. That’s right, members of Congress get to park for free in super-convenient spaces. Something to think about next time you take the train or park way out in the econo lot.)

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