Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 26, 2014

Posts in "Aviation"

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

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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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.

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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.

Full story

November 20, 2014

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.”

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.

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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.

November 18, 2014

A New Funding Source For Air Traffic Control?

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Lightning flashes near an air traffic control tower under construction at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last year. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

My CQ colleague David Harrison reports on an interesting split on the future of the Federal Aviation Administration and air traffic control.

Paul Rinaldi of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Tuesday that there’s a need for a new structure outside of FAA for traffic controllers.

Full story

Amtrak Files Complaint Against Two Of Its Hosts

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A section of CSX rail line in Kentucky ((Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)

Brisk business for the nation’s freight railroads and a rail infrastructure that can’t accommodate all who want to use it — combine those two factors and you get passengers on one Amtrak line late in arriving 97 percent of the time.

The on-time performance of Amtrak’s daily Capitol Limited service between Chicago and Washington, D.C. was 2.7 percent for the quarter which ended on Sept. 30, down from 33.6 percent the previous quarter.

Full story

November 17, 2014

Coming Up This Week: Airbags, California’s Electric Vehicle Future, Freight Wish List

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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., will preside at a hearing Thursday on the Takata airbag recalls. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

As the lame duck session of Congress ponders how to pay for government operations after Dec. 11 when the continuing resolution expires, some members are looking ahead to the transportation policy choices they’ll have make in the new Congress.

Tuesday

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hears from Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, Capt. Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, and other witnesses as it looks to its complex task of reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. The current FAA authorization expires in September.

Also on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the Freight Stakeholders Coalition will present its ideas on how next year’s surface transportation bill could help American manufacturing and U.S. workers’ productivity by financing freight rail projects.

The speakers include Robyn Boerstling, the director of transportation and infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, and Kurt Nagle, president of the American Association of Port Authorities.

Wednesday

The R Street Institute, a Washington think tank whose mission is to “promote free markets and limited, effective government,” hosts a panel on how cities, including the nation’s capital, are regulating driver-for-hire services such as Lyft and Uber.

Chris Massey, director of government relations at Lyft and Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute will be among the speakers.

Last week the R Street Institute issued a report grading 50 of the largest U.S. cities on their friendliness to for-hire vehicle services.

Thursday

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing on the Takata airbag defects and the vehicle recall process.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who’ll become ranking Democrat on the committee next year, will chair the hearing. Nelson has been one of several senators to voice his unhappiness with the performance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency which after 10 months still lacks a permanent head since President Obama hasn’t nominated one.

Two weeks ago. two members of the committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation of Takata.

The New York Times has reported that ex-employees of Takata said the company knew as far back as 2004 that some of its airbags were defective, but executives didn’t alert regulators.

Also on Thursday, from the land of Tesla, the California Institute for Federal Policy Research holds a briefing on Capitol Hill on the progress of electric vehicles in California and efforts by utilities to invest in infrastructure and support electric fleets.

Executives from PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric will brief and field questions.

November 10, 2014

The Week Ahead: Newly Elected Members Get Oriented

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Newly elected members of the House pose for the freshman class photo in November of 2010. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

We will get insights this week from the people who run some of the nation’s biggest rail and airline companies, and from newly elected members of Congress as they arrive in Washington for their orientation.

Tuesday

Rob Knight, the chief financial officer of Union Pacific will address the Stephens 2014 Fall Investment Conference. He makes another presentation the following day at Baird’s 2014 Industrial Conference.

Full story

November 7, 2014

A Look Back: ‘Anonymous Vomit’ And Voters Rebuff Automatic Gas Tax Hike

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“Vote Here” sign outside Warren Easton High School on Election Day in New Orleans. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

This week voters chose a Republican Senate majority for 2015.

We looked at one beneficiary of that choice: soon-to-be Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. One of Thune’s main concerns has been rail congestion which affects farmers across the Plains states.

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November 6, 2014

Obama Restates The Obvious, But In a Timely Way

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President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in 2009. (Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Restating the obvious can sometimes be politically significant, especially when the person who does the restating is the president.

Lame duck though Barack Obama is, “there’s only one Democrat who counts, the president,” as Senate Minority (and soon to be Majority) Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Wednesday.

So we can’t let pass without notice that Obama used the word “infrastructure” five times in his post-election press conference Wednesday.

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