UPDATE: Shuster & A4A’s House Legislation, Aiming to Privatize ATC

The next step in the legislative process happens later today. In the House, the Appropriations Committee’s THUD Subcommittee (Transportation, Housing & Urban Development) does a bill markup hearing. It is set to start at 7:00pm (though, it may have a slightly different start time, as it needs to follow a voting process). Click here to access the webcast.

As background material, the House (led by Transportation & Infrastructure Committee chair Bill Shuster) is pressing to privatize ATC. There is substantial opposition. In the House, most significant opposition has been voiced by the ranking Democratic Party committee member, Representative Peter DeFazio (OR). Mr. DeFazio has deep knowledge of the issues, as he has formerly chaired the Aviation Subcommittee. However, given the vast division in the House today, even the best reasoning is simply outnumbered. So, the proposal advanced out of the Subcommittee, and then was approved by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee on June 8th.

The Senate, on the other hand, continues to oppose the privatization concept. So, at this time, there are two different legislative proposals moving forward, the main difference being the inclusion of ATC privatization in the House version, but the exclusion of ATC privatization in the Senate version. Logically, if two versions pass, this will all end up in conference, where a lot of wheeling and dealing will happen. Strategically, Shuster and the Av/Gov Complex players (which includes FAA, though of course at this stage of the process, FAA Adminsitrator Huerta and the agency are very careful to ‘look’ like they are neutral!) will throw bones to selected parties, to gain just enough support to pass their proposal. They’ll also try to conflate; e.g., people upset about cramped seating will feel pressured to allow ATC privatization, if that is what they must do to pass language mandating wider seats and longer seat pitch. It’s crazy; it’s stupid; but this is how the dysfunction goes, every year … and it is only getting worse.

Here are a couple video news clips. Amy Goodman, at Democracy Now, offers an excellent review of Trump’s endorsement of the proposal to privatize ATC, announced on Monday June 5th. The video includes a lengthy interview of Paul Hudson, president of Flyers Rights.

In another excellent video clip, the same subject is covered by Thom Hartmann, at The Big Picture. He interviews economist Dr. Richard Wolff.

House Subcommittee on Aviation to Hold 6-15-2016 Hearing on ATC Issues

The House Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), will hold a hearing next week to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) air traffic controller hiring, staffing, and training plans and related issues. Here is a portion of the press release, including times and a list of the four witnesses:20160615scp.. 'FAA’s Air Traffic Controller Hiring, Staffing & Training to be Focus of Hearing' (portion of House Aviation Subcomm Press Release)


The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, under Chair Bill Shuster, has been pushing hard to privatize ATC. Although most controllers are opposed, the NATCA leadership has been offering testimony and news stories that are aimed at getting Congressional approval of ATC privatization. One of the witnesses is Paul Rinaldi, head of NATCA, who has been pressing an absurd point, claiming ATC is using archaic technologies including ‘paper strips’. Another witness, Randy Babbitt, was forced to resign from his position as FAA Administrator when he failed to report an alcohol/driving charge after a Christmas party in 2011; after his abrupt resignation, he was quickly hired by Southwest Airlines.


Below are scrollable PDF files listing the committee members. These may be helpful for identifying speakers during the proceedings. They also can be used to study how powerful Congressional committees are structured, and how severely gerrymandered their districts tend to be (to ensure their reelection).

Click on either of the two images below for a scrollable view; red shows republican members (R) PDF file, blue shows democrat members (D) PDF file.
Aviation Subcommittee members are marked with a blue box around their name. Click on the PDF links to download either list.


UPDATE, 6/15/2016 at 12:23 EDT: — The hearing ended at 12:19. Random notes are viewable on page 2 of this Post. Additional updates will follow.

AIRR: Going Nowhere (while Shuster schleps in Florida!)

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:

  1. The AIRR Act is Not Conservative
  2. Creates a New Special-interest Bureaucracy
  3. Diminishes Congressional Oversight
  4. A High Cost to Taxpayers and a Sweet Deal for Unions
  5. 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.


See also:
  • 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:

REFERENCE: A Table Listing all Members of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee

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

This Circus is FREE, and it Comes to YOU!

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.

LIVESTREAM: AIRR Act Hearing

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:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-OC0cfW_Nc&feature=youtu.be&t=690

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.

UPDATED at 1:00pm EST on 2/10/2016: — 5-minute recess; will resume with session #2 momentarily.

Frank LoBiondo’s Chance to Lead on Climate Change

After a year with record high temperatures, extreme drought, and horrific wildfires, our elected leaders may finally be moving past their longstanding political impasse. Ten of the more moderate Republican representatives have signed on to a call for action on climate change. Doing so, they are bucking the entrenched position of their party, which has been to deny that climate change is connected to excessive consumption, particularly of fossil fuels.

The Environmental Stewardship Resolution was released last week, sponsored by Rep. Chris Gibson, of New York: “This is a call for action to study how humans are impacting our environment and to look for consensus on areas where we can take action to mitigate the risks and balance our impacts.”

20150917cpy.. F.LoBiondo bio picOne of the newest cosponsors is Frank LoBiondo, a Republican from New Jersey. Congressman LoBiondo is in a very powerful position, because he is a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and chairs the Subcommittee on Aviation. As such, he is one of a tiny few U.S. leaders who can steer FAA’s future. A future that needs to include aviation fee and tax reform, so that aviation operators are strongly incentivized to minimize fuel consumption.

Congressman LoBiondo’s online biography notes his roots and includes this:

“Drawing from his childhood love of the outdoors, Frank has always maintained a strong commitment to protecting the environment. Throughout his time in public office, he has worked to protect fragile wildlife and wetlands areas and stood up for projects that will preserve and restore the New Jersey coastline. His work in Congress has won recognition from many environmental groups including the Audubon Society, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club.”

With that, it seems entirely conceivable that Congressman LoBiondo could merge his background with his power, and perform the biggest accomplishment of his political career: take a REAL stand for the environment. In one fell swoop, he could significantly reduce both noise and carbon pollution, while also ensuring more people get direct airline flights, cutting out many of those out-of-the-way stops at today’s mega-hub airports.

His subcommittee is currently being worked over by lobbyists, all agitating for taking ATC out of FAA (sometimes called ‘ATC privatization, or ‘ANSP autonomy’). The lobbyists dress the proposal up as if it will make things better, failing to clarify the main beneficiaries will be themselves, not the Public. Ignoring what the Public wants/needs, FAA and the industry WANT a federally chartered, non-profit organization because it will further insulate them from accountability. In reality, the players in today’s Av-Gov Complex want to be accountable only to themselves (a.k.a., the ‘stakeholders’).

So, forget about ‘privatizing’ ATC, at least for now. Our Congress, starting with the Subcommittee on Aviation, should tell Mr. Huerta and the boys, and under no uncertain terms…

…there will be no reduction of Congressional FAA oversight until FAA shows reliable and accountable performance and transparency. Until FAA cleans house, this Congress will never — and no Congress should ever — reward the incompetence and arrogance being demonstrated by the employees and their tone-deaf agency.

In other words, FAA needs to clean up their growing NextGen mess; give local authority back to local officials, so communities can manage aviation noise; become transparent.

Quit serving only the industry … start serving the taxpayers.

So, What Might LoBiondo’s Next Move Be?

Here’s an idea. LoBiondo should move to implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax for all aviation fuels.

We could very effectively use aviation as an example, to demonstrate how well the revenue-neutral carbon tax concept can work, and to set a high standard for the other energy consumption sectors to follow. Nobody denies that we need to vigorously manage our entire fossil fuels diet (gas, oil, and coal, for transportation, heating, industry and power generation). So, why not start with a focused program, aimed solely at aviation carbon consumption?

We need a steep carbon fee and dividend (CFD), and we need to rationalize the revenue base that funds ATC and other FAA programs. The smartest way would be to charge user fees based on the factors that matter today: a user fee for runway access, an ATC charge proportionate to distance flown, and carbon fees in proportion to total fuel consumed. In combination, these changes would fully replace the current tax/fee system, and would yield enormous efficiencies and dividends. For example, a steep aviation carbon fee and dividend…

  • …would strongly encourage the major airlines away from routing passengers via out-of-the-way mega-hubs, to instead set schedules that route more passengers nonstop or via smaller, more manageable hubs aligned close to the direct route of flight.
  • …would impose natural limiting forces, to discourage overdeveloping hubs into mega-hubs. We have seen enough; at some point any hub airport grows to become too big; there is a diseconomy of hyper scale.
  • …would make it much more expensive for a single banker, CEO, politician, or other privileged jetsetter to consume thousands of pounds of fuel per hour in a bizjet, on unnecessary business flights or when zipping off for ski trips and golf junkets; and,
  • …would quickly bring relief to impacted neighbors suffering from nonstop aviation noise, particularly at the busiest mega-hub airport cities: Chicago and Atlanta.

See also:
  • 9/17/2015 – Bernie Sanders Slams GOP for Ignoring ‘Planetary Crisis’ of Climate Change at the second second GOP debate.

FAA’s Culture of Unaccountability (PIX11 Investigative Series, by Mario Diaz)

This looks like a solid news investigation, and something sorely needed to bring accountability to FAA. Reporter Mario Diaz conducted a four month investigation which has now aired as a series of news stories at PIX11 TV (New York). He found fifteen cases where air traffic controllers were found partially responsible for fatal air crashes, yet the controllers were never held accountable … and some returned to work in just days. He also notes that FAA paid out more than $100 Million to settle the fifteen identified cases, in which 54 people died.

Mr. Diaz reported a lack of cooperation from many aviation officials who declined interview requests during the initial investigation. This included the controllers’ union (NATCA), the main pilots’ union (ALPA), Senator Jay Rockefeller (who chairs the senate committee that oversees transportation), Representative Frank LoBiondo (Chair of the House Subcommittee on Aviation), and most significantly the FAA. Those who did speak (and thus appear more devoted to real transparency) included: U.S. Senator Cory Booker (NJ), U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (NY), and Representative John Mica (FL).

After Part One aired on April 28th, both FAA and Rep. LoBiondo provided brief responses. FAA’s response was incredible, in that the agency declared FAA’s dedication to ‘safety’ while ignoring their own failed safety record, as evidenced by this investigative series. FAA added a declaration that they investigate “…every accident and incident that occurs in the system to determine whether it could pursue further improvements to continue to enhance aviation safety.” This is patently false, as evidenced by the concealment of the 7/25/2010 controller error at Camarillo, CA, which FAA continues to pretend did not happen.

FAA’s statement went even further, citing ‘Due Process’ concerns in defense of their failure to take accountable action against rogue controllers. Those who are aware of FAA’s terrible history of retaliation against Whistleblowers will find this especially galling because, in nearly all Whistleblower cases, FAA has done everything in their power — including lying repeatedly — to obstruct Due Process. So, there is a disturbing double-standard: destroy the Whistleblowers, while supporting those who participate within the corrupt culture. Want to see an example? See the extensively documented Lewis-FAA WB Case, related to the TV set pictured below.

As one aviation attorney said in the PIX11 news series, “…this is the government’s stonewalling … what amounts to incompetent behavior that can, does, and has resulted in death.”

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20140428.. Mario Diaz article, FAA ATCS still employed after deadly crashes4/28/14, Part One:
Reporter Mario Diaz presents his extensive investigation into the lack of accountability by FAA and air traffic controllers. He identifies cases where FAA air traffic controllers were found to have contributed to fatal air crashes, yet are still working in FAA’s control towers and en route radar facilities. In two examples, fatal accidents in both Texas and Florida, all pilots and passengers were killed after the controllers knowingly failed to advise pilots of lines of severe weather. Comments are mostly by controllers, and are ‘unappreciative’ of Diaz’ report.

20140429.. Mario Diaz article, HEMS accident, Andrews AFB4/29/14, Part Two:
The sole survivor of a 2008 medevac helicopter crash is interviewed, and is surprised to hear that the controller who refused to provide an ASR approach is still working. She had heard the controller was fired. That controller was assigned to work the tower at Andrews AFB, but FAA had failed to train her to conduct ASR approaches. NTSB found significant FAA failures at two towers as well as at the Potomac TRACON radar facility. A former FAA attorney noted this criticism: “The NTSB categorized the FAA’s actions in this case as casual and sloppy. I’d say it was casual and sloppy at its best.”

20140430.. Mario Diaz article, FAA probe soon by Maloney4/30/14, Part Three:
Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney of New York found FAA’s response was unacceptable, and vowed to send FAA a letter, demanding answers.
Congressman John Mica, former Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, as well as the former Chairman of the House Aviation Sub-Committee, suggests that controllers are being improperly shielded. “This pendulum has swung I think too far in the direction of protecting people who should be held accountable and should be dismissed.” The article also discusses the failure of the ATSAP program, which is effectively burying safety information into a black hole (and thus protecting FAA personnel — and FAA — from accountability)

20140505.. Mario Diaz article, Maloney letter to Huerta5/5/14, Part Four:
U.S. Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney discusses the reason he has sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. The letter presents his concerns and asks specific questions, including “What transparency measures exist when the FAA investigates an accident?” The letter was also copied to Rep. Bill Shuster, the chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Maloney sits on that same committee, which oversees FAA.

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caused a near-midair collision in March 1989

Same Culture of Unaccountability, but two decades earlier. This is the TV set in an Oregon tower cab that caused a near-midair collision and led one FAA air traffic controller to become a Whistleblower. When he spoke up, he became a target of retaliation by FAA officials. [click on image to read more]