Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
January 28, 2015

Posts in "Airports"

January 27, 2015

Senators Urging Obama To Fill TSA Vacancy

A TSA agent checks a traveler's identification at a TSA Pre-check lane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A TSA agent checks a traveler’s identification at a TSA Pre-check lane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, are joining forces to urge President Barack Obama to nominate a head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The bipartisan letter to Obama says that given an “intensified terror threat and the vacancy set into motion when former Administrator [John] Pistole announced his plans to retire over three months ago, it is critical that TSA have strong leadership now to set priorities, make tough decisions, and manage its large workforce.”

Full story

January 26, 2015

Bust The Aircraft Duopoly? Not Quite Yet

The new Bombardier C series aircraft is shown in Mirabel, Quebec as it is due to take off for the first time on Sept. 16, 2013. (Photo: Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

The new Bombardier C series aircraft is shown in Mirabel, Quebec as it is due to take off for the first time on Sept. 16, 2013. (Photo: Clement Sabourin/AFP/Getty Images)

Two competitors are aiming to break the hold that the Boeing-Airbus duopoly has on the market for long-haul jets, but one, China, is still years away from entering the global market, while the other, the Canadian company Bombardier, has been facing delays with its new midsized passenger jet.

The Financial Times asks Monday whether the difficulties Bombardier has had with its new C series passenger jet “are merely the kind of short-term blip that other aircraft manufacturers have experienced – and overcome – on big new projects, or a long-term risk to the company’s viability.”

Full story

By Tom Curry Posted at 1:45 p.m.
Airports, Aviation, Travel

January 23, 2015

A Look Back At The Week: Drone Delays, Smoky Subway

A consultant holds a drone made by HiTec during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles on December 13, 2014.  (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

A consultant holds a drone made by HiTec during the first-ever Drone Expo in Los Angeles on December 13, 2014. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

We spent a lot of time this week reporting on something that’s up in the air: the yet-to-be-issued notice of proposed rule-making (NPRM) for small remotely piloted aircraft, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles.

That NPRM will be a big step as the Federal Aviation Administration moves toward a final rule allowing commercial use of drones.

But the FAA may not issue a final rule until 2017 – which drone industry ally Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D- Ore. says is “unacceptable.”

Michael Drobac, head of the Small UAV Coalition, said “technology is being stifled in the U.S., but only in the U.S.”

At a House hearing Wednesday the FAA’s man in charge of UAV integration James Williams said the rule must “go through the regulatory process that has been put in place by Congress and we’re working our way through that.” He added, “You’ve got to understand this is a very complex rulemaking.”

Meanwhile airports were one part of the nation’s infrastructure that did not get explicit mention by President Obama in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night – but Congress is going to pass or at least try to pas, an FAA reauthorization bill this year and it could embody significant policy changes.

On the ground or below it, travelers are at risk in our nation’s capital as a fatal Jan. 12 smoke incident on the Metro made dramatically apparent.

D.C.-area members of Congress are pledging to keep a wary watch over Metro managers as they work to fix the safety problems.

Veasey Joins Graves At General Aviation Caucus Helm

 Rep. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Texas Democrat Rep. Marc Veasey will be the new co-chairman of the House General Aviation Caucus, joining Rep. Sam Graves, R- Mo.

First elected to the House in 2012, Veasey represents a district that includes parts of Fort Worth and Dallas. He said he’d work to increase “awareness about how important general aviation is to our economy and industrial base, totaling a more than $14 billion impact in Texas and over $150 billion nationally.”

Full story

NTSB Wants Devices To Prevent Flight Disappearances

Origami cranes hang on a board offering prayers and condolences to the Malaysia Airlines MH370 and MH17 victims and their families at a bereavement centre in Kuala Lumpur last September (Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

Origami cranes hang on a board offering prayers and condolences to the Malaysia Airlines MH370 and MH17 victims and their families at a bereavement centre in Kuala Lumpur last September (Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

The National Transportation Safety Board is recommending to the Federal Aviation Administration that it require aircraft on trans-oceanic routes be equipped with devices that will allow searchers to find them if they crash.

The recommendations come more than 10 months after the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with 239 passengers and crew on board while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The NTSB noted in letter to FAA administrator Michael Huerta that the searchers for the plane “have analyzed and mapped more than 41,000 square kilometers of ocean floor” without finding the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder, or wreckage.

The NTSB is also responding to the nearly two-year search for the recorders from an Air France flight which crashed en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, killing all 228 people on board. The NTSB said it cost about $40 million to find the flight recorders in that case.

Full story

January 21, 2015

Airports Missing From Obama SOTU Infrastructure List

President Obama greets House Speaker John Boehner, as Vice President Biden looks on, in the House chamber before Obama delivered his State of the Union address. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Obama greets House Speaker John Boehner, as Vice President Biden looks on, in the House chamber before Obama delivered his State of the Union address. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The term “infrastructure” got five mentions from President Obama in his State of the Union address Tuesday night and he cited three transportation modes in particular: shipping (ports), highways (“stronger bridges”), and “faster trains.”

One infrastructure word not in Obama’s speech Tuesday was “airports.”

Full story

January 13, 2015

Cell Phone Signals Offer Massive Trove of Travel Data

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Travelers on the New York City subway, many of whom are transmitting data about their travel patterns. (Photo credit should read Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images)

Every hour of every day cell phones are generating data which transportation planners, real estate developers, and investors use to help them to understand traffic flows, shopping patterns, and population shifts.

An Atlanta-based company, AirSage, collects real-time data (15 billion data points every day) from cell phone tower interactions – whenever a person sends a text, makes a phone call, or when a phone is searching for the next cell phone tower.

AirSage was one of the exhibitors at the annual Transportation Research Board meeting in Washington this week.

The company draws the data, which come from more than 100 million mobile devices, from two of the top three cell phone providers. The data cover more than a third of the U.S. population.

Full story

January 8, 2015

Airlines Still Implementing Lessons Of 2009 Crash

Workers and investigators clear debris from the scene of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009 near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, killing all 49 people on the plane and one on the ground.  (Photo by David Duprey-Pool/Getty Images)

Workers and investigators clear debris from the scene of the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in 2009 near Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, killing all 49 people on the plane and one on the ground. (Photo by David Duprey-Pool/Getty Images)

The crash of a Colgan Air flight as it approached the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, killing 50 people, including 45 passengers, happened almost six years ago, but regulators and airlines are still implementing its lessons.

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Federal Aviation Administration chief Michael Huerta announced a rule that requires most U.S. commercial airlines to implement by 2018 a management system to help them examine data gathered from flight operations and reduce risk.

The rule will “foster a stronger safety culture” within the airlines, Huerta said, adding that “a strong safety culture is a very, very valuable thing. It’s something that we cannot regulate completely in every aspect because it is something that a company has to create from within.”

The NTSB report about the Feb. 12, 2009 Colgan Air accident still makes disturbing reading long after the fact.

Full story

January 7, 2015

DHS Chief Johnson To Examine Atlanta Security Breach

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will go to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport Thursday to meet with Transportation Security Administration and airport officials to confer on what his spokeswoman called “potential vulnerabilities” in airport security.

Johnson’s trip had been announced Tuesday.

On Wednesday New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer demanded that the TSA order airports to screen all airport and airline employees through a metal detector each time they enter airport premises.

The New York Democrat called for action after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and federal agencies uncovered a gun smuggling conspiracy which brought 153 firearms from the Atlanta airport to New York airports from May to December of last year. Five men, including a former Delta Airlines ramp worker, have been charged in the scheme.

Full story

January 5, 2015

Let’s Review the Bidding on Infrastructure Funding

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday "we have to look at all the options" on revenue for infrastructure.  (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Sunday “we have to look at all the options” on revenue for infrastructure. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sunday’s political talk shows reminded anyone still emerging from their holiday stupor that despite the New Year, lawmakers don’t seem closer to an accord on how to pay for highways and infrastructure.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the new chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, broke no new ground by saying on Fox News Sunday that “I don’t think we take anything off the table at this point” — including an increase in the federal excise tax on gasoline.

Thune’s comment drew the retort “WHAT?!?” on Twitter from Dan Holler, communications director for the conservative advocacy group Heritage Action for America, but what Thune said to Fox News on Sunday was what he said to us last November: “I’m not taking any options off the table” on revenue measures as part of a long-term surface transportation bill.

Full story

December 31, 2014

Transportation Hurdles Ahead In 2015 For Congress

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014  at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week.    (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

Christmas travelers walk past a man focused on his smartphone on Dec. 23, 2014 at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. during the hectic Christmas travel week. (Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

In the New Year, Congress faces far-reaching policy and spending choices that will put members under both time and political pressure. Will there be enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done, or will decisions be postponed in favor of short-term expedients?

Here are some of the issues that are likely to be contentious in 2015

  • Unmanned aerial systems: Members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee let Federal Aviation Administration officials know at a Dec. 10 hearing that they’re fed up with the agency’s slowness in devising a rule to integrate unmanned aerial vehicles into the nation’s airspace.

Congress may take some of these decisions into its own hands if the FAA doesn’t act quickly enough. Some members see the UAV industry’s vast potential being stymied by the FAA’s inaction. Full story

December 24, 2014

A Look Back At Our Favorite Stories Of The Year

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, in July called a temporary FAA ban on flights to the Tel Aviv airport an economic boycott of Israal. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, left, in July called a temporary FAA ban on flights to the Tel Aviv airport an economic boycott of Israal. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Since we launched The Container in June, transportation news has been dominated by one big trend, the decline in oil and gasoline prices, by an Ebola outbreak that caused jitters in the aviation industry, and by a range of tough policy choices that Congress has faced.

Here’s a glance back at the some of our favorite stories since we launched…

  • Unless you’re the Nigerian or Russian energy minister, you’re probably happy about declining oil and gasoline prices. We took note when the price at the pump fell below in $3 a gallon.
  • The price of oil has been driven down in part by the boom in production in North Dakota’s Bakken shale. In July we got some perspective on shipment of Bakken crude from a major player in the industry, Global Partners CEO Eric Slifka, who made the case why rail shipment is better than pipelines.
  • On Capitol Hill, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. won a victory in his battle for less costly shipping of food aid to countries in need….
  • …while some House members still waxed nostalgic for the now-banned earmarks that they say would make it easier to enact a major transportation spending bill.
  • In the crowded skies, drones swooping over your neighborhood to survey real estate (but only if the Federal Aviation Administration gives its OK) was a provocative scenario we heard about
  •  Also aloft, one airline industry analyst complained that “we as customers still feel entitled to have access to that [luggage] bin space with our ticket. Why is that?”
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has a knack for making news with pungent statements and in July, to our benefit, he weighed in on the FAA temporarily banning U.S. flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, calling it an economic boycott of Israel. The FAA acted after a rocket landed about a mile from the airport as fighting raged between Israel and Hamas.
  • The alarm about the Ebola virus peaked in October and we pondered how Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sounded as much like an economist as an epidemiologist. We also got the views of an airport administrator who is on the Ebola front lines: “to chase anonymous vomit. That’s what my job has become.”

Note: The Container will resume regular publication on Jan. 5.

December 19, 2014

Most Encouraging News Of 2014, Part Two

Encouraging news: BNSF's $6 billion capital investment program (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Encouraging news: BNSF’s $6 billion capital investment program (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Here’s our second selection of views from transportation advocates, analysts, and interest group representatives on the most encouraging or discouraging transportation developments of the past year….

 

“The Department of Transportation’s decision to move forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communication helps pave the way for the next generation of crash avoidance technology. The ability of vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and with the infrastructure around them is a promising step toward reducing the number of traffic and pedestrian fatalities, while also increasing the efficiency of our transportation system.”

Hilary Cain, director, Technology and Innovation Policy, Government and Industry Affairs, Toyota

Full story

December 17, 2014

For FedEx, Fuel Price Drop Is Not All Good News

Workers prepare to offload a FedEx plane at Newark, N.J. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Workers prepare to offload a FedEx plane at Newark, N.J. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

FedEx chief financial officer Alan Graf said Wednesday the company had “a spectacular second quarter” in fiscal year with a 36 percent increase in earnings per share.

But Graf said on a conference call for investors that performance wasn’t largely due to the dramatic drop in oil prices.

The jet fuel price decline provided “only a slight benefit to operating income” due to the way FedEx passes along costs to its customers through its fuel surcharge and the way it buys fuel.

Full story

December 16, 2014

Robust Boeing & Even More Airports For China

Boeing chairman and CEO Jim McNerney (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

In a sign of a robust commercial aviation industry and a confident corporate leadership, Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney announced Monday that his company was increasing its quarterly dividend by 25 percent to 91 cents per share.

He cited “the solid growth outlook for commercial aviation” as part of the basis for the higher dividend, which the company has increased by 88 percent over the past two years.

Meanwhile, market observers have been puzzling over whether the plunge in oil prices is a welcome stimulant to economic growth, or an early warning sign of weakening growth, especially in Pacific Rim and Asian economies.

McNerney assured investors in late October that declining oil prices wouldn’t lessen airlines’ demand for the more fuel-efficient planes that Boeing makes.

Oil prices would need to fall “a long way from where we are now” before “you begin to see even [an] incremental impact” on airlines’ demand for more fuel-efficient aircraft, he said.

But when McNerney said that, the Brent crude benchmark was at about $85 a barrel; today it is below $59 a barrel for the first time since the spring of 2009.

China has, of course, been one of Boeing’s best markets for years, and there was related aviation news from China Tuesday with the Financial Times reporting that the top economic planning agency has given its approval to a new $13 billion airport in Beijing.

But the FT portrayed this as “part of government efforts to boost flagging growth by accelerating construction of state-led infrastructure projects.”

The FT notes that Beijing’s existing airport was completed only six years ago. (Just for comparison: New York City’s LaGuardia Airport was built in 1939.)

“An oversupply of airports is different than an oversupply of planes,” explained Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in Asian economic trends.

“China is plainly building too many airports (almost 100 more on the way) and many of them are too large. This is merely to boost short-term economic numbers, and will waste a great deal of money.”

But he added, “Since it’s state-controlled, top to bottom, it doesn’t qualify as a bubble. Just a bad idea.”

He also said, “The Chinese don’t get the same benefits from over-ordering planes and there are no reports of aircraft sitting idle, as there are with facilities. The main threat to Boeing is longer-term: the Chinese are trying, not yet successfully, to make their own aircraft.”

In the near term he added, “Boeing is at risk of overstating the vigor of the Chinese economy and thus the demand for its products.”

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