Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 28, 2014

November 25, 2014

U.S., EU Officials Meet On Norwegian Air Controversy

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A Norwegian Air Shuttle Boeing 737 (Photo: Aas Erlend/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation Department and State Department officials met Tuesday with representatives of the European Union to discuss why the Transportation Department hasn’t yet decided on an application for a foreign air carrier permit from Norwegian Air International (NAI), the Ireland-based affiliate of the budget airline Norwegian Air Shuttle.

Norwegian Air Shuttle CEO Bjorn Kjos said in a speech in Washington last week that granting the permit was “long overdue.” His company says that by not granting the permit the United States is not honoring its obligations under a EU-U.S Open Skies Agreement.

Full story

Lame Duck Isn’t Done With Takata Airbag Issue

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Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., along with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is seeking a wide range of documents from airbag manufacturer Takata. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

When Congress returns to lame-duck business next week, the Takata airbag recall will continue to be under lawmakers’ scrutiny.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade will hear from Takata executive Hiroshi Shimizu and David Friedman, the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

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Amtrak Narrows Loss As Northeast Service Thrives

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Amtrak passengers check train information at New York’s Penn Station. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Amtrak is still losing money, but the good news is that it lost less money in Fiscal Year 2014 than it did in prior years.

In Amtrak’s FY2014 financial results released Tuesday, the railroad reported a net loss of $1.08 billion, compared to a net loss of $1.27 billion in FY2013.

The railroad’s revenues increased by eight percent over FY2013, partly on the strength of robust demand for its Washington-to-Boston services. The Northeast Corridor trains had 11.6 million passengers in FY2014, up 3.3 percent from the prior year.

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November 24, 2014

FAA Review Of Chicago Fire Focuses On Insider Threat

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Passengers wait to reschedule flights at O’Hare International Airport on Sept. 26 after arson destroyed equipment at an air traffic control facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Pay more attention on the threats from within.

That’s one lesson of a 30-day internal Federal Aviation Administration review of the Sept. 26 fire set at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center.

Brian Howard, a contractor who worked at the center, was charged in a criminal complaint in the incident which disrupted travel and forced the FAA to move air traffic control to its centers in Minneapolis, Kansas City, Cleveland and Indianapolis.

The internal review, which the FAA released Monday, found that dealing with external threats has until now been “the primary focus of the FAA security regime.”

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No Holiday Cheer In Ports Dispute

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The Port of Los Angeles (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s Christmas shopping season; do you know where your gift is in the supply chain?

For some people, gifts may be delayed by the congestion and long-running contract negotiations at West Coast ports.

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Friday Q & A: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Part Two

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Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., in his district in Mount Vernon, Wash. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

Here’s the second half of our interview with Rep. Rick Larsen, D- Wash., who is the senior Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.

You said at Tuesday’s hearing on FAA reauthorization, “If we’re going to ‘go big’ in this bill… we must do so methodically, with a clear statement of the problem we are trying to solve.” So what is the problem you’re trying to solve?

The problem the aviation subcommittee will try to solve is not one problem. For NATCA it’s funding stability. For Airlines for America, representing the airlines, it’s the full implementation of NextGen so that they can start seeing the benefits to them. Those are two very different problems but some are suggesting that by doing a broader air traffic control reform Congress can solve these individual problems. I’m not certain about that.

And based on the hearing that we had, I continue to conclude that there’s no consensus among stakeholders on a broader air traffic control reform, because they did not all come up with the same answer to how you fix these problems.

As far as FAA funding certainty, having those of us who fly pay a dedicated user fee, as part of the cost of the airplane ticket, would be one way to provide that.

You’re already paying right now in the form of a passenger facility charge to help with funding for airports.

With regard to the use of the national airspace, yes, the people who fly benefit from that.

But I think we need to look at the national airspace like the national highway system in that everybody benefits from having it.

So it does make sense to have some general Treasury funding as part of that funding picture  for the national airspace.

I do not see how we move to a user fee system in the United States because of the resistance from some groups.

And the idea that we have to move to a user fee system says that Congress is failing at funding aviation in this country. We didn’t use to have these funding problems. We have the funding problems now because of sequestration and because of government shutdowns.

As a country, we just need to decide if we want to have a national airspace, or if we want to partition it off to those who are most willing to spend the most to use it.

One non-FAA question: about the oil train issue. The last number that BNSF filed with the state was that 8 to 12 Bakken oil trains a week go through your district.

Whatever one might say about pipelines being built, it looks like this oil-by-rail traffic will continue, since you have five refineries in your state that are using this oil from North Dakota.

Are you confident that what the Obama administration is doing and the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration) rule that’s is in the works are making it as safe as possible to move oil by rail?

I don’t see the day right now where a pipeline is going to be built from North Dakota into Washington state to service the refineries and deliver Bakken oil.

Mile for mile, I think pipelines are safer, but moving things by rail is safe too….

I think that because of the increase of Bakken oil being delivered by rail, it makes perfect sense to move forward on a strong safety rule that deals with the tank car design, the frequency of rail line inspections, notification to first responders and to the communities, as well as several other issues.

I think the administration’s approach on this is the right approach; I’d like to see them move faster on it…

I think the resistance from some in the industry to push back against tougher tank car design is wrong-headed. We need tougher tank cars, there’s no argument otherwise.

[Editor's Note: Click here for Part One of the interview.]

The Week Ahead: OPEC, Oil, Shipping, Shopping

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Workers place boxes on a conveyor belt at the FedEx facility at the Oakland International Airport. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

This week’s most significant transportation event won’t take place in Washington, or in the United States at all, but in Vienna where representatives of the OPEC oil cartel will be meeting on Thanksgiving Day.

The 12-member cartel is under stress from lower oil prices, with the price of benchmark Brent crude having fallen by 30 percent since June.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that U.S. crude production, driven in large part by advances in hydraulic fracturing, will increase from an average of 7.5 million barrels a day last year to 9.4 million barrels a day in 2015.

Full story

November 21, 2014

A Glance Back at Our Week: Congestion, Oil By Rail, And A Streetcar Nixed

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Container ships at the Maersk terminal in the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

This week we asked whether the cancellation of a planned streetcar line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs is perhaps a turning point for trendy transportation/urban development projects.

We heard in person from Bjorn Kjos, the head of Norwegian Air Shuttle who has set up an Ireland-based subsidiary to offer low-priced transatlantic service, a potential threat to legacy U.S. airlines such as United and Delta. Kjos is being stymied by Obama administration regulators.

Full story

Friday Q & A: Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Part One

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Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. (Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call via Getty Images)

First elected to the House in 2000, Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., is the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee. He’s playing a lead role on the bill that the House is poised to take up next year to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration and perhaps make basic changes in how the nation’s airspace is managed.

Larsen also represents a district that includes Boeing’s giant aircraft manufacturing plant in Everett, Wash.

Here are excerpts from our conversation Thursday.

Is it likely that Congress can pass both a long-term surface transportation bill and a FAA reauthorization bill next year? That’s an awful lot in one year.

I can only speak for the House of Representatives and I believe we’re going to give it the old college try.

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November 20, 2014

A Bipartisan Move To Reward Whistleblowers


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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has introduced a bill with Sen John Thune, R-S.D. to incentivize auto industry whistleblowers

In a bipartisan response to a spate of automobile industry recalls, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Thursday they were introducing a bill to give automobile industry whistleblowers up to 30 percent of the penalties resulting from a Department of Transportation or Justice Department investigation when the penalties are $1 million or more.

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 4:38 p.m.

Head Of Low-Fare Carrier Woos Americans

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CEO of Norwegian Air Shuttle, Bjorn Kjos (Photo: Junge Heiko/AFP/Getty Images)

Bjorn Kjos, chief executive officer of Norwegian Air Shuttle, parent company of a low-fare carrier that wants Department of Transportation permission to provide more flights between Europe and the United States, made his case to airline industry leaders at a speech in Washington Thursday.

Kjos said he’d be a job creator for Americans by bringing European and Asian tourists to American cities, hotels, and tourist sites.

And he said “if I fly twice as many people into the U.S., I need twice as many cabin attendants, I need twice as many pilots.”

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Despite Airbag Defects, Driving Safer Than 20 Years Ago

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Labor Day holiday traffic in Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2014. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

On the eve of Thursday’s Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on defective vehicle airbags that may have killed four people in the United States, President Obama nominated Mark Rosekind, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, to fill the long-vacant job as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Governors Highway Safety Association cheered the nomination, calling Rosekind a leader in investigating and deterring drunk driving, drugged driving, and distracted driving.

Full story

November 19, 2014

NTSB Ruling Affirms Regulations Still Apply to Drones

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., holding an unmanned arial vehicle at a 2013 hearing. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., is at right. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The National Transportation Safety Board took a significant step this week on unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones. It said that federal aviation regulations still apply to drones even as everyone in the UAS world awaits the Federal Aviation Administration’s proposed rule governing drone flights.

In most cases UAS flights are banned. The FAA has granted some exemptions: in September it gave exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies.

In its ruling Tuesday the NTSB, acting as a quasi-court of appeals, sided with the FAA in the case of Raphael Pirker who’d flown a drone above the University of Virginia campus in 2011.

Full story

What If Every (Travel) Day Were Like Thanksgiving?

New data released by the U.S. Travel Association says that everyday air travel could soon come to resemble the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when passenger volumes can increase by 108 t0 259 percent more than that of a normal day.

According to the data, almost “half of our [30] major airports are already experiencing Thanksgiving-like congestion levels at least one day every week (an increase from 6 in last year’s study.)” and that all 30 airports will reach Thanksgiving-peak levels on an average of one day per week within the next six years.

During a conference call Tuesday, Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said, “The already bad news about our overwhelmed travel system has gotten worse… and this headache goes beyond the traveling public and passengers,” adding that congestion is bad for the economy and is tied closely to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The U.S. Travel Association estimates that in 2013 alone, 38 million trips were avoided because of unwillingness to deal with airport congestion, costing the U.S. economy $35.7 billion.

When asked about the congressional role in easing air travel congestion, Dow said that when Congress takes up next year’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization, it should provide more infrastructure investment and give more spending flexibility to airports.

He also insisted that Congress should look at  adjusting user fees and investing in NextGen air traffic control systems.

But when asked about his confidence in Congress to address these concerns in an FAA reauthorization bill, Dow said, “if past is prologue, it’s unlikely that Congress will increase investment.” But he expressed a little optimism by later noting that flexible spending and local control are “Republican principles” and would perhaps appeal to the new Republican-led 114th Congress.

A Streetcar Setback in D.C. Suburbs

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Emergency responders take part in a drill on H Street Northeast in Washington. A new streetcar is in a test phase. (Photo Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

The momentum to transform America’s cities with streetcars and light rail systems got a setback Tuesday when the Arlington County Board in the Washington, D.C. suburbs voted to cancel a planned $550 million streetcar system.

The decision followed the election on Nov. 4 of prominent streetcar opponent John Vihstadt, an independent, to a full term on the board, following his victory in a special election last spring.

The county board chairman, Jay Fisette, a Democrat, said that he and other streetcar proponents “were caught flat-footed” by the public opposition. Full story

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