The ridiculous scheme to privatize the U.S. ATC system appears to have died a quick death, but give Bill Shuster, Nick Calio, and Paul Rinaldi credit for putting a lot of effort into it.
The legislative proposal was introduced with great fanfare on February 3rd – even a slick video, loaded with spin (not sure who paid for that production!?!, though it looks like an A4A production). The rollout was after years of work and hundreds of meetings with so-called ‘stakeholders’, to craft the precise language that best served their interests. A fatal error was that the ‘stakeholders’ did not include airport neighbors, airline customers, environmental representatives or ANYONE in the general public. As has become routine in recent years, the ‘stakeholders’ set was limited to parties that stood to personally gain from scheme implementation: the airlines, the airline lobbyists, the air traffic controllers lobbyist (i.e., the union NATCA), and potential ATC contractors.
The need for Transformational Reform of FAA/ATC remains. Let’s hope our Congressional leaders get to work pass REAL legislation, including:
- restoration of local authority, including the power of local residents to vote democratically on airport activity limits, so as to ensure local citizens lead in the management of airport impacts, and to ensure the airport serves the local community first, industry last.
- a complete reconfiguration of the aviation fee & tax structure, so as to:
- disincentivize overdevelopment of airline hubs (to encourage wider distribution of moderate traffic levels, and to avoid saturated repetitive flight patterns);
- minimize fossil fuel consumption;
- maximize percentage of passenger trips that proceed from origin to destination, without layovers.
- maximize transparency by both airlines and FAA/ATC, to include required annual data reports, so citizens can see quantified progress toward efficiency and environment system goals.
- a thorough correction of aviation noise metrics and rules, to include:
- remove authority from FAA and place it clearly within an EPA noise office;
- upgrade the false ’65 dNL’ metric with a more realistic ’55 dNL’ metric, and also establish rules based on other non-dNL noise metrics.
FAA’s arrogance in ignoring NextGen noise impacts is legendary, but that arrogance is amazingly exceeded by Bill Shuster, Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. And, it is all a glaring conflict of interest.
On Day One, Mister Shuster is waterboy for lobbyist Airlines for America (A4A), pushing a poisoned legislative proposal that would grant the airlines control of ATC via a so-called ‘not-for-profit privatization’ scheme; on Day Two, Mr. Schuster is ‘on the beach and tipping cocktails’, hanging in Florida with his best buddies: lobbyist A4A CEO Nick Calio, and A4A VP of Government Affairs Shelley Rubino. Oh, and the A4A Government Affairs VP also happens to be ‘engaged’ in a personal relationship with Mr. Shuster.
Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.
The rollout of the Shuster/A4A legislative proposal included clearly coordinated support by all the intended beneficiaries: representatives Shuster & LoBiondo, lobby Airlines for America, and even the controllers union, NATCA (though the vast majority of controllers quickly rose up, charging their elected leaders with selling out the future … and other FAA employee unions were quick to distance themselves from NATCA’s Executive Board decision). But, there was strong opposition even at the rollout. Even before the big shows – the Hearing on 2/10/2016, and the Markup on 2/11/2016 – the Republican committee members voiced a clear opposition to the proposed ATC privatization. The legislative proposal was rolled out on February 3rd, but an article by Jazz Shaw at HotAir.com provided a copy of a leaked memo showing five substantial points why the House Freedom Caucus opposes this FAA restructuring plan:
- The AIRR Act is Not Conservative
- Creates a New Special-interest Bureaucracy
- Diminishes Congressional Oversight
- A High Cost to Taxpayers and a Sweet Deal for Unions
- The Proposal is Less Safe
Despite their strong conservative opposition, at the Markup, eight days after the rollout, conservative members rejoined ranks. Nearly every amendment vote produced a strict party-line split: Republicans (34 seats on the committee) consistently outnumbering Democrats (25 seats on the committee).
Bear in mind, Shuster wanted to introduce this legislation a full year ago, but was forced to delay and retool, due to the growing FAA NextGen debacles. So, in total, the Shuster/A4A proposal is seeing opposition from everyone EXCEPT the cronies who stand to reap the core of the intended special interest gain: i.e., the only consistent support comes from industry (A4A and the airlines), the NATCA NEB members (all of whom are near retirement), and the Congress-critters who earn campaign contributions by advocating for this bad idea.
At time 9:21:58 of the nearly ten-hour Markup, just prior to the quick series of final votes, Representative DeFazio offered this comment: “…(the amendments) are generally – how would you describe them – tweaks to the imaginary ATC corporation (laughter) … they would make it better, if it happened (more laughter)….”.
In other words, the Shuster/A4A proposal distills down to just one big joke – a waste of our time and money.
- 2/23/2016 – ‘FAA reform bill raises concern from Queens leaders’
- 2/22/2016 – ‘The FAA restructuring bill already looks like it’s on life support’
- 2/22/2016 – ‘AIRR Delayed Amid ATC Reform Opposition’
- 2/12/2016 – LAMA Resolution opposed to HR4441
- 2/4/2016 – ‘Republicans Introduce Plan to Remove 30K People From the Federal Government’s Payroll’
Even with all this opposition and concern, the talking heads at the source keep trying to sell this crap; check out this USA Today interview of an A4A mouthpiece:
Listening to a livestream broadcast of today’s AIRR Act markup session, being railroaded by Bill Shuster for lobby Airlines for America (and thus for the airline industry), it became apparent that a list of committee members would be helpful. Find it here: Members, House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee
In an ideal world, our elected officials would tend to the business of keeping our transportation modes moving, such as by non-politically passing FAA’s re-authorization in a timely manner. This world, lately, is not looking too ideal.
BUT, we do get to watch the circus acts and all the AIPs at Work. And, even though it is just video, you can still smell the elephant dung. It comes today via this livestream of the ‘markup’ session for
FAA’s Bill Shuster’s Airline for America’s AIRR Act, scheduled to start at 10AM EST:
Here is the 9.5-hour video. Actual hearing starts at time 0:11:43. Went into recess for just over an hour at 5:56:30, resuming at 7:13:58. A ’10-minute break’ at 8:50:55, resuming at 9:16:46.
In Washington, DC, a congressional committee is using the need to ‘re-authorize’ FAA spending as an excuse to try to ramrod a packaged sellout to the airlines. The package, generously called the ‘Aviation Innovation, Reform & Reauthorization Act’ (AIRR), contains 273-pages of ‘transformational’ legislation that seeks to insulate the airlines and ATC from Congressional oversight.
At the same time, across the nation, the repetitive noise of FAA’s NextGen operations continues to destroy once pleasant neighborhoods. One of those neighborhoods is in the Chicago area, the Village of Bensenville to the west of O’Hare Airport.
Residents along Hillside Drive began enduring horrific repetitive flight noise when a new runway was opened in the Fall of 2013. Although FAA swears they complied with NEPA regulations and found the noise impacts would not be significant, some residents have hardly slept since.
Judge for yourself. Look and listen to the residents in this recently published video:
Frankly, the root of the problem at O’Hare is the use of this location as a major airline hub. It can be bad even if only one of the ‘final four’ major U.S. airlines operates a ‘superhub’, but at O’Hare, this is done by two: both United/Continental and American/USAir.
We all understand the concept of ‘economy of scale’, but in reality, there is an enormous ‘diseconomy of scale’ that sets in when airports grow too large. Multiple airlines and the airport authority can run a very successful operation at a smaller and more easily manageable airport, such as with a single pair of parallel runways, generating lots of profits while also serving the air transportation needs of the local community members. Economy of scale continues to this level of airport development. But, once the third parallel runway goes in, or if ATC is using multiple sets of parallel runways, diseconomy sets in. The added airport capacity, when utilized, creates a mess in many ways: not just the repetitive noise impact on neighborhoods, but also the magnified air pollution, the near-airport traffic congestion, the passenger chaos within the airport terminal, and the near-collisions and ‘SNAFU’ aspect that controllers must contend with. All so that the airline can tweak out a bit more profit.
In the worst cases (U.S. airports KORD, KATL, KPHX and KCLT come to mind), the hub airlines schedule heavy ‘banks’ of non-stop arrivals and departures. The noise impact can stretch for hours, and yet much of the noise has nothing to do with serving the local community. People fly into the airport, walk to another gate, and fly out – never even visiting the community. The high traffic levels (and impacts) are thus related only to serving the airline’s ‘passenger sort facility’ (aka ‘hub’) business model. Of course, this business model is aimed solely at generating profits …and corporate representatives have a palpable disdain for homeowners and residents who complain about noise and other impacts. A disdain that FAA happily enables.
So, here we are in February 2016. After months of intensive preparatory work coordinated by the airline lobbyist, Airlines for America, Bill Shuster has capitulated to that same lobbyist by proposing his ‘transformational’ REFORM package. REFORM is in the name and yet the package has nothing to do with correcting problems like the Noise Ghettos being created in places like Bensenville (…and FQ Story, and Palo Alto, and Seattle, and Milton, and Flushing, and Mount Holly, and Georgetown…). And, on top of that, Mr. Shuster has admitted to having a personal relationship with a high-level official at Airlines for America, the sort of conflict of interest that past Congresses would never tolerate.
Here’s a suggestion for Mr. Shuster (& Ms. Rubino), Mr. LoBiondo, Mr. Calio, Mr.Huerta and Mr. Rinaldi: sit down with your family and watch this Hillside video (and, while you are at it, check out the video of flight-attendant Serena). Then, REFORM. Let these people sleep and enjoy their yards, for crying out loud!
Quit teasing the public and playing games to enrich your crony friends. Re-authorize FAA immediately, but insert REAL TRANSFORMATIONAL change, such as congestion pricing and a steep aviation fuel tax. You are lying when you claim the ATC system is operating on antique technologies, and you are also lying when you claim NextGen benefits that are already being realized without additional NextGen development. You are claiming ‘ATC corporatization’ is necessary, when you know this is just a bogus sales pitch. And most importantly, you know: the cascading delays and most other ‘claimed problems’ would be solved, almost immediately, if you would simply do two things:
- change the aviation taxes and fees to disincentivize the overuse of superhubs like O’Hare, and
- demand accountable performance at FAA.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding an AIRR Act hearing at this moment, chaired by Bill Shuster. Two hours in, the witnesses include Ed Bolen, Robert Poole, Paul Rinaldi and Nick Calio, all of whom (except Bolen) are strong advocates of this corporate giveaway. Shuster has unfortunately set such small time allotments that the representatives and witnesses simply cannot get into sufficient depth to clearly debate the issues and arrive at solid solutions. Nonetheless, lots of concerns and opposition are being strongly declared.
Here is an embed for the livestream … The hearing ended at 1:43pm EST. Here is a link to a video of the full hearing, which ran for nearly 4-hours:
Note the link starts at 690-seconds into the recording; it appears that the recording was begun nearly 11-minutes prior to the actual gaveled opening by Shuster.
See also this opinion piece from TheHill.com (PDF below, annotated by aiREFORM):
This pop-out view is scrollable, and the PDF copy may be downloaded.
— 5-minute recess; will resume with session #2 momentarily.
A funny way to point out the corruption, cronyism and failures by the ‘players’ in today’s Av-Gov Complex….
A flight attendant hanging out at a bar is handed the phone and told she has a call. She chats with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta for a few minutes. She happens to be interested in buying a house in Phoenix, and knows home prices have been plummeting due to new lower routes imposed for NextGen. She asks Mr. Huerta if he can help her to get a better price by allowing flights even lower to the ground. Here’s the video:
During the phone conversation, Serena learns that Mr. Huerta is having dinner with ‘Bill’ and ‘Shelley’. This is a reference to the relationship between House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster and Shelley Rubino, a VP at a major aviation lobbyist firm, Airlines for America.
As of this week, the two biggest ‘aviation impact people’ pushing legislation to move ATC out of FAA are Bill Shuster and Nick Calio, Shelley’s boss at Airlines for America.
The video is a funny joke; on the other hand, Mr. Shuster’s apparent conflict of interest is not funny at all.