The Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing today to review several nominations in its purview, including FAA administrator-designate J. Randolph Babbitt and DOT deputy secretary-designate John Porcari. Opening statements are going on now. Babbitt is, as you know, the former president of the Air Line Pilots Association and a pilot at Eastern. According to Mark Warner (D-Va.), who is chairing the hearing at the moment, Babbitt is “the right person to lead the FAA at the moment.” (Wow, tough crowd.) Porcari is Maryland’s secretary of transportation.
Opening statements by Babbitt and Porcari have been posted on the committee’s website.
I’m not on the Hill today, but I am watching the hearing’s live webcast. I’ll bring you aviation-related highlights of the hearing throughout the day, so refresh this post for the latest updates. Stay tuned!
11:43. Interesting item from Babbitt’s testimony: “I have worked with members of Congress on major aviation safety issues, including one of which I am most proud, ‘One Level of Safety.’ I led this project in 1993 while I was president of ALPA. This program resulted in required regional carriers to operate under the same rules and at the same level of safety as their major carrier counterparts.” Of significant relevance given the attention paid to small-lift provider safety standards in the wake of the NTSB’s Colgan Air crash hearings.
11:48. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) was principally responsible for torpedoing the confirmation of Robert Sturgell, former president Bush’s FAA nominee. He’s much happier with Babbitt today, about whom, when he slips up and says “if you are confirmed, he adds “if you’re not it will be a miracle.” Lautenberg asks about the New York / New Jersey / Philadelphia airspace redesign. Would Babbitt put a hold on the redesign until frontline air traffic controllers ha had a chance to weigh in? “I’m not exactly certain where that process stands at this time,” Babbitt replies. “On a personal basis, I would really like to solicit input from all the stakeholders in that area. . . . I think it’s very important that [controllers] have input in this process.”
Lautenberg then raises a parochial concern that is more than parochial, given the airport’s role in the system: reported controller shortages at Newark Liberty International Airport. “Can you assure us that the Newark tower will be staffed to the volume of performance we require there?” Babbitt: “It’s my hope that every tower in this country will be staffed and manned to the highest degree.” He refers to the “bubble of controllers being in a similar age, a band of age” who are going to retire soon. (And already are.–ed.)
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. . . besides being an Illinoisan. From John Kass at the Chicago Tribune comes this dispiriting item about Obama’s DOT nominee Ray LaHood:
Obama selected outgoing Illinois U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Combine) for the post of secretary of transportation, putting LaHood in charge of Obama’s planned trillion-dollar public works bonanza being sold as a jobs bill.
“Every dollar that we spend, we want it spent on projects that are there, not because of politics, but because they’re good for the American people,” Obama said. “If we’re building a road, it better not be a road to nowhere.”
Not because of politics? What does the great reformer take us for, a bunch of chumbolones?
What Obama forgot to mention is that with LaHood in charge of the roads, they’ll lead to one place:
Cellini, the Republican boss of Springfield who has been indicted in the Blagojevich scandal for allegedly shaking down the producer of the movie “Million Dollar Baby,” is a strong LaHood ally. Cellini runs Sangamon County, and LaHood has enjoyed Cellini’s political support.
They also joined to help oust the last true reformer in Illinois politics, former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, the Republican who was denied an endorsement from his own state party after he brought federal prosecutors to Illinois with no connection to the bipartisan Combine that runs things here.
Republican money man Cellini is not only the Chicago political connection to machine Democrats and Mayor Richard Daley‘s City Hall—and a Blagojevich fundraiser—he’s also the boss of the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association.
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Posted in Evan's Commentary, tagged Aviation08, dot, faa, politics on December 18, 2008|
One of the surprises about the rumored Ray LaHood nomination for secretary of transportation — set to be announced tomorrow — is that he has so little transportation experience. He is on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and would thus be well positioned to oversee Barack Obama’s planned burst of infrastructure spending. LaHood did serve on the Aviation Subcommittee back in the late 1990s, and during that time, he cosponsored — which, in Congress, usually means you slapped your name on the bill for some political reason — several aviation-related pieces of legislation:
- Federal Aviation Administration Revitalization Act of 1995 (HR 2276, 104th Cong.). This legislation would have made the FAA an independent agency no longer under the authority of the DOT, although DOT approval would have been required for FAA rulemaking. Also gutted the aviation staffers at DOT who report to the secretary. This legislation passed the house in 1996 before stalling in a Senate committee.
- Airline Passenger Safety Act of 1996 (HR 3618, 104th Cong.). Prohibits chemical oxygen generators from being transported by aircraft. Went nowhere in the House.
- Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996 (HR 3923, 104th Cong.). Requires the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates airplane crashes, to appoint a liaison for families of plane-crash victims and name a national nonprofit to handle post-crash care for victims’ families. Also requires airlines to submit plans for their dealings with victims’ families and urges state bar associations to forbid their ambulance-chasing members from contacting victims’ families for thirty days. Passed by House; not taken up in the Senate.
- HR 2252, 105th Cong., directs the transportation secretary to retaliate against foreign countries that violate air service agreements with the U.S. with respect to cargo carriers. Hearings were held.
- Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (HR 1000, 106th Cong.). The FAA reauthorization bill.
- HR 4529, 106th Cong., which amends federal aviation law to prevent people with criminal convictions that “indicate a propensity for placing contraband aboard an aircraft in return for money” from holding aviation-security jobs. No action.
- Small Airport Safety, Security, and Air Service Improvement Act of 2002 (HR 1979, 107th Cong.). This bill, which never made it past the Senate, would have provided funding for construction of control towers and installation of equipment.
Interestingly, LaHood voted “no” on the 2007 FAA Reauthorization Act — the as yet incomplete FAA legislation. The House’s version, spearheaded by Rep. James Oberstart (D-Minn.) did not include a provision for user fees for air traffic control services, unlike the Senate version that saw the two houses at loggerheads. Why did LaHood join most Republicans in voting no? I’ll try to find out.
LaHood is an Arab-American (of Lebanese and Jordanian descent). In 1998, he vociferously opposed the use of profiling in rooting out potential terrorists or hijackers. He insisted that screening systems be entirely non-discriminatory.
Adrian Schofield offers a couple of notes over at Things with Wings. One may be related to one of the bills above and involves a vigorous response on international air services agreements. The other places him in opposition to FAA commercialization or restructuring in 1995.
Now, the secretary of transportation works on more than aviation. But the FAA is the largest subagency within DOT, and LaHood’s aviation record is pretty thin on the ground.
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I’ve got a busy morning, so more on Ray LaHood’s transportation (and especially aviation) record soon, but I’ll just say that the likely appointment of retiring Republican congressman Ray LaHood as secretary of transportation seems to indicate that Barack Obama does not plan to devote a great deal of attention to transportation issues — much like our current president, whose cabinet’s token Democrat was also at DOT.
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It’s pretty common knowledge that the United States has for years underinvested in “infrastructure” — from the power grid to physical plants to transportation — and thus one of the first priorities of the next administration should be to devote massive resources to repairing infrastructure. And I’m sure the commuter inching forward on a Dallas interstate on his way home from work or a passenger on a regional jet at LaGuardia groaning as yet another thirty-minute delay is announced would agree. And Barack Obama has endorsed a massive infrastructure spending program in hopes of stimulating the economy. So then — let’s get busy! Where to start?
As Bob Poole writes in yesterday’s WSJ, the mayors of 427 cities have helpfully identified more than 11,000 “ready-to-go” infrastructure projects worth $73 billion. Okay, there’s a start. And what kind of projects are these? Poole lays out several of them: a “waterfront duck pond park,” community centers, tennis centers, “life style centers,” a “Grand Central Station” in San Francisco for a rail line that doesn’t exist, and the like. (More “infrastructure priorities are listed here.) That is, the mayors have, in a recession and what is widely acknowledged as a crisis in infrastructure, presented the taxpayers with a gold-plated wish list. No doubt Congress would be happy to pony up the money in exchange for naming rights.
Why are these projects even on the list? For several reasons. First, they’re discrete and local. Highway, airport, and major transit projects often require consultation with and the involvement of multiple authorities, making it harder for the spending to have a quick impact — even if its long-term effect would outweigh that of a duck pond by a factor of, oh, infinity. Another reason might be the “spaghetti” approach: throw it at the wall to see if it sticks. No harm in trying, right? ask the mayors. (No harm, indeed, except perhaps the derision of a few lowly bloggers.) (more…)
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Shikha Dalmia, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, an L.A.-based think thank that sets itself apart in the right-of-center policy community by focusing on transportation, offers a libertarian perspective on the best and worst cabinet appointees that Barack Obama might choose at the Department of Transportation.
Dalmia writes that one of the top priorities of the next transportation secretary should be to speed up the NextGen transformation by “extricating air traffic control operations from the Federal Aviation Administration’s bureaucratic shackles and spinning them off as a separate ‘company’ with the authority to fund the $25 billion revamp through revenue bonds paid by user fees.”
The candidate who is best suited for this job is, in fact, the current Secretary of Transportation, Mary Peters. She began her term in 2006 and since then she has repeatedly drawn attention to the imminent bankruptcy of the National Highway Trust Fund and the need, therefore, to explore leasing arrangements with private companies to build new toll roads and to implement congestion pricing — an idea that Obama has praised — in our most-congested urban areas as well as airports. . . . Peters has proven herself to be an able administrator. More to the point, she would offer creative and sensible ways for Obama to deliver on his idea of using infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy without burdening taxpayers.
Dalmia’s “second-tier picks” include Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, Clinton-era deputy transportation secretary Mort Downey, and San Francisco Bay Area transportation commission director Steve Heminger. Unlike Peters, the latter two are thought to be on Obama’s shortlist. Dalmia also mentions some positives about former FAA administrator Jane Garvey, who has apparently made favorable noises on highway pricing. But Dalmia writes that “she starved the air traffic system of funding, partly because she didn’t have the gumption to standup to the demands for a sweetheart contract by the controllers’ union.”
And Dalmia’s worst options: Representatives Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). “They routinely advocate spending gas tax revenues on everything but highways and are huge champions of mass transit, regardless of a project’s effectiveness. Oberstar, a bike enthusiast, is arguably the worse of the two because he also has a taste for larding highway pork on favored constituencies. . . . Oberstar would be a great friend of the decrepit transportation status-quo, something that America’s economy can ill afford.”
Obama’s Cabinet: Hoping for an Empirical Presidency [Reason Foundation]
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Posted in Evan's News and Quick Takes, tagged air traffic control, airports, BAA, canada, competition, delays, Deregulation 2.0, dot, europe, faa, regulation, southwest, travel on October 23, 2008|
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My story in The American magazine is now up on its website. Here’s the lede: “Thirty years ago this October, the era of affordable mass air travel was unleashed. Why was this revolution stalled, and what can be done to finish it?”
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