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Legislative Update: House Hearing on Air Transportation Industry

March 8, 2017

Today the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation held its third of five hearings in preparation for the FAA reauthorization bill. The Subcommittee received testimony from representatives of the Alaska Air Group, Inc., Sky West, Inc., Air Transport Services Group (ATSG), Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, and Travelers United on the current state of the U.S. air transportation industry.

Russell “Chip” Childs of Sky West pointed out that the FAA’s 2013 FOQ rule requiring airline First Officers to possess an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate has contributed to the reduced pool of hirable pilots. This rule increased the prerequisite to 1500 hours in flight. Childs believes that the FAA should use its existing authority to authorize additional, R-ATP training pathways. R-ATP pathways allow specific academic training courses to be credited toward a portion of total flight hours when the Administrator determines that these academic training courses will enhance safety more than requiring the pilot to fully comply with the flight hours.

Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants stressed the importance of having a 10-hour minimum rest requirement and a Fatigue Risk Management Plan (FRMP) for flight attendants included in the Reauthorization bill. When asked about the pilot shortage issue, she explained that “regional airlines provide 45% of the lift in the domestic market, but their pilots and flight attendance are only being paid at 45% of the rate.” Nelson opposed the decision to grant Norwegian Air International (NAI) a foreign air carrier permit, stating that NAI had “hoodwinked the American public”, introduced a “flag of convenience” business model in the aviation sector, and put 300,000 U.S. aviation jobs at risk.

Brad Tilden of Alaska Air Group said, “It is imperative that the U.S. government do zero harm to the vibrant U.S. Open Skies policy.” In order for Alaska Airlines to compete with U.S. airlines that have a global footprint, they have to rely heavily on partnerships with international airlines. Tilden gave his support for ATC privatization, citing NextGen progress as not being far along as it should be. He said, “Under the current governance and funding system, we run a real risk that demand for airspace is going to rise at a rate that is more rapid than our rate of technological innovation, worsening delays.”

Joseph Hete of ABX Air and Air Transport Services Group acknowledged that ATC reform was a “hot button issue for Congress” but opted not take a position. Hete said, “I am not alone when I say that as the head of a publically traded company, I simply cannot tell my shareholders nor my customers that an ATC restructuring effort is a good idea when we do not have cost assurances.” Hete indicated that aircraft noise was a bigger impediment to NextGen than funding because new flight paths are being implemented as part of the airspace redesign.

Charles Leocha of Travelers United said, “Every director of every airport across the country will proclaim that their airport is the economic engine of their region. However, the regions’ businesses are not paying their fair share for airport construction and operations. Passengers are being stuck with the bill.” Rep. Defazio challenged Leocha on the issue of PFCs arguing that it is the fairest way to have a user based system.

Chairman Frank LoBiondo concluded the hearing by inviting the public to provide advice on building a 21st century infrastructure for America to transportfeedback@mail.house.gov.

Categories: Advocacy
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