Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
May 30, 2015

Posts in "Travel"

March 26, 2015

Alps Crash Appears To Have Been Deliberate

Rescue workers continue their search operation into a third day near the site of the Germanwings plane crash in La Seyne les Alpes, France. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Rescue workers continue their search operation into a third day near the site of the Germanwings plane crash in La Seyne les Alpes, France. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

When aviation safety experts speaks of “the insider threat,” they mean not only aircraft maintenance workers who smuggle weapons or drugs aboard planes, or place a bomb on a plane, but pilots or co-pilots who deliberately crash their aircraft.

On Thursday the prosecutor in Marseille announced that the co-pilot of the Germanwings Airbus A320 that went down in the French Alps Tuesday appears to have deliberately crashed the plane.

All 150 on board were killed.

The co-pilot was a German named Andreas Lubitz, 28, who was flying the plane after the captain left the cockpit. Evidence from the cockpit voice recorder indicates that he refused to open the cockpit door and then put the plane into its final descent.

This type of incident has happened before.

On Oct. 31, 1999, EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767 which had departed from New York bound for Cairo, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles south of Nantucket, Mass., killing all 217 people on board.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the relief first officer, Gameel al-Batouti, took deliberate actions that crashed the plane. As the plane headed toward its impact with the ocean he repeatedly and quietly said, “I rely on God.”

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was al-Batouti’s “flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer’s actions was not determined.”

Journalist and pilot William Langewiesche wrote an excellent account of the investigation of that crash, focusing on the split between the Egyptian and U.S. investigators.

March 19, 2015

Will Musk Have The Antidote To ‘Range Anxiety’?

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors.  (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla Motors. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of electric car maker Tesla, will announce at a press conference Thursday plans that he has “to end range anxiety,” as he put it on Twitter Tuesday.

The lack of recharging stations makes electric car drivers fret that they may not make it to their destination, a topic discussed at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board in January.

On the coldest days of the year, electric vehicles suffer a more than 40 percent decrease in their range, according to one researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. That may limit the interest in buying electric vehicles in colder weather states.

Musk also caused a flurry of comment this week with his prediction that “when self-driving cars become safer than human-driven cars, the public may outlaw the latter.”

He added, “Hopefully not.”

His speculation about autonomous vehicles wasn’t original. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute made much the same observation last year.

 

March 18, 2015

Boeing Union-Management Struggle Enters New Phase

The 787 Dreamliner on the assembly line at the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The 787 Dreamliner on the assembly line at the Boeing factory in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The struggle between labor and capital at America’s premier commercial aircraft manufacturer has entered a new chapter.

This week the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which represents many production line employees at Boeing plants in the state of Washington, said it has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold an election for more than 2,400 production workers at Boeing’s non-union plant in North Charleston, S.C.

It’s now up to the NLRB to schedule an election.

Reacting to the NLRB filing, Beverly Wyse, Boeing South Carolina’s vice president and general manager, said it was the non-union workers at the South Carolina plant who made it a success.

This is also the week that Boeing delivered its first Dreamliner of the 787-9 series assembled in South Carolina to United Airlines.

“The IAM aggressively opposed” the South Carolina plant, Wyse said, “as publicly demonstrated by their filing of a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, to try to keep our site from even opening. Now, simply by filing this petition, the same union that tried to take our jobs and our work, has already begun to divide our team at a time when we’re just beginning to gel and catch a solid rhythm in production.”

Fervently anti-union in this battle is South Carolina’s Republican governor,Nikki Haley, who said in her State of the State speech in January, “Every time you hear a Seattle union boss carry on about how he has the best interests of the Boeing workers in Charleston at heart, remember this: if it was up to that same union boss, there would be no Boeing workers in Charleston.”

Meanwhile in Washington state, the legislature is considering a bill that would curtail a tax break for Boeing which Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law in 2013.

The tax break apparently helped persuade Boeing to keep work on the new version of the 777 in Everett, Wash.

Democratic state Rep. June Robinson is proposing to make the tax break conditional. She said, “If Boeing jobs leave the state, the tax break will gradually go away. If the jobs stay in Washington, Boeing keeps the tax break. It’s simple and it’s fair.”

According to the Everett Herald’s Jerry Cornfield, “Robinson’s bill is the handiwork of the unions representing machinists and aerospace engineers. It stems from frustration that the 2013 law didn’t stop layoffs or prevent Boeing from shifting hundreds of jobs to other states without penalty.”

February 25, 2015

How Oregon’s Pioneering Road Usage Fee Will Work

Mount Hood in Oregon (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Mount Hood in Oregon (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)

Jim Whitty is the evangelist for Oregon’s pioneering road user fee pilot program which begins on July 1.

Other states are watching how Whitty and Oregon conduct a 5,000-vehicle pilot program in which volunteers will pay a road usage charge of 1.5 cents per mile for the number of miles they drive, instead of the fuel tax. Drivers will get a credit on their bill to offset the fuel tax they pay.

Whitty, manager of the Office of Innovative Partnerships & Alternative Funding for Oregon’s Department of Transportation, is a wry, self-deprecating salesman for the program.

Full story

February 19, 2015

A Train Station, Or ‘An Incredible Destination’?

The lobby of the Radisson in Scranton, Pa., formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station. (Courtesy: Radisson Hotels)

The lobby of the Radisson in Scranton, Pa., formerly the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station. (Courtesy: Radisson Hotels)

So valuable is some big city real estate that rail yards can’t be just rail yards anymore, and a train station must be far more than a place to get on a train, it must become a “destination” or better still a “a place to be seen.”

If you’re a utilitarian traveler from Washington to New York or from Washington to Philadelphia, you might be satisfied simply with “a clean, well-lighted place,” a crime-free train station with tolerably hygienic bathrooms.

Add a good coffee shop, and perhaps a place to get a glass of wine and a sandwich. And a newsstand, and maybe a book shop, like the late lamented Posman Books in New York’s Grand Central Station.

That’s enough for some travelers.

And most importantly, the train service itself should be frequent and reliable.

But if your calling in life is real estate development, those expectations are far too modest.

Full story

February 18, 2015

Sparring With Gulf Rivals, Delta CEO Cites 9/11 Attacks

Richard Anderson, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Richard Anderson, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

If you missed Delta CEO Richard Anderson on CNN Monday night, he touched on a provocative topic, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in his rhetorical struggle with Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airlines.

First Anderson told CNN’s Richard Quest that he had “documented evidence that can’t be refuted of tens of billions of dollars in direct government subsidies” that Emirates and the other Persian Gulf airlines had received from their governments.

Then he responded to a question about the Gulf carriers’ argument that U.S. carriers in their own way get government help in the form of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy process that allows them to periodically shed debt and other obligations.

“That is categorically false,” Anderson said. “And it’s a great irony to have the UAE from the Arabian Peninsula talk about that, given the fact that our industry was really shocked by the terrorism of 9/11, which came from terrorists from the Arabian Peninsula that caused us to go through a massive restructuring.”

Full story

February 11, 2015

Airports Group Defends Open Skies Trade Deals

An Emirates Airbus A380 aircraft on a visit to Tehran last year  (Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

An Emirates Airbus A380 aircraft on a visit to Tehran last year (Photo: Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

The trade association representing U.S. airports is coming to the defense of Open Skies agreements with foreign countries that are under attack from major U.S. airlines.

Last week three American airlines, Delta, United, and American, asked the Obama administration to modify or perhaps even scrap the Open Skies accords with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that allow airlines from those countries to compete with the U.S. carriers.

The U.S. carriers argue that airlines such as Emirates are subsidized by their home governments to the tune of $42 billion since 2004.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Kevin Burke, the president of the Airports Council International – North America, said, “Criticisms are being levelled against U.S. Open Skies policy by a few U.S. interests”

But these agreements have been good for U.S. airports and for travelers, Burke argued. Full story

February 5, 2015

Airlines Challenge Open Skies Deals With Gulf Nations

A flight attendant poses beside an Emirates Airbus A380. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

A flight attendant poses beside an Emirates Airbus A380. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

Major American airlines have asked the Obama administration to consider renegotiating the terms of the Open Skies accords with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates that allow airlines from those countries to compete with the U.S. carriers.

American Airlines said Thursday that it, along with United and Delta, is talking to “U.S. policymakers to reevaluate existing Open Skies agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates” and to assess the effect of government subsidies provided to the Gulf airlines “in violation of those agreements. We welcome robust competition provided the playing field is level.”

“A reopening of those Open Skies agreements is the first step and the right step to ensure competition is preserved and enhanced and U.S. airline careers continue to prosper.” the American Airlines statement said. Full story

February 4, 2015

Governor Seeks Repeal of Automatic Gas Tax Hikes

Larry Hogan on the campaign trail last October with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Glen Burnie, Md. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Larry Hogan on the campaign trail last October with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Glen Burnie, Md. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

In his first State of the State address, Maryland’s Republican governor Larry Hogan told the state legislature Wednesday he’d seek repeal of the automatic increases in the state’s gasoline tax which his Democratic predecessor Martin O’Malley signed into law in 2013.

That law “would automatically increase taxes every single year without it ever coming up for a vote,” Hogan said. The tax increases are pegged to the Consumer Price Index.

He said citizens deserve to know how lawmakers vote “every time the state takes a bigger share of their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Full story

February 3, 2015

Corporate Jets In Obama’s Sights As Revenue Source

Rep. Bobby Scott, D- Va., took a swipe at CEOs who use corporate jets Monday  (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Bobby Scott, D- Va., took a swipe at CEOs who use corporate jets Monday (Photo By Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

The people who buy and fly in corporate jets are a durable political target.

Even as recently as Monday evening as the House Rules Committee considered the rule to govern the floor debate on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Bobby Scott, D- Va., told the committee that one of the benefits of the ACA is that people know that “the dollars they spend on insurance are going to health coverage. The 80 percent rule provides that 80 percent has to be spent on health care, not corporate jets and CEO bonuses.”

For four years in a row, starting in 2011, President Obama’s budget requests have proposed to raise taxes on companies that buy corporate aircraft.

He’s back with that same revenue raiser (which the administration estimates is worth $3.5 billion over ten years) in his Fiscal Year 2016 budget request.

Full story

Despite Airbag Mishaps, Data Show Driving Is Safer

An ambulance carries injured passengers after a tour bus rolled over and off the side of the Foothill Freeway in Irwindale, Calif. in 2013. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

An ambulance carries injured passengers after a tour bus rolled over and off the side of the Foothill Freeway in Irwindale, Calif., in 2013. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the weekend Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the recall of more than 2.1 million vehicles due to a defect that may cause airbags to inflate when they’re not supposed to.

That announcement highlights the risk of driving some vehicles, but two recent reports indicate that driving is getting safer, not riskier:

For passenger cars, fatalities declined from 12,361 to 11,977, also a 3 percent drop.

  • Last week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported new data showing that the chances of dying in a crash in a late-model vehicle have fallen by more than a third in three years.

The Institute said there were 7,700 fewer driver deaths in 2012 than there would have been had vehicles remained the same since 1985. It credited better structural design for much of the improvement.

“We know from our vehicle ratings program that crash test performance has been getting steadily better,” said David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer. “These latest death rates provide new confirmation that real-world outcomes are improving, too.”

January 28, 2015

Blizzard Economics Creates Winners And Losers

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Snow covers a car in Cambridge, Mass. on Tuesday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The blizzard that hit parts of the Northeast Tuesday may have been a bit of bust for New York City (9.8 inches in Central Park) and led to charges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo over-reached by ordering roads and mass transit to be shut down at 11pm Monday.

But the nor’easter dumped a lot of snow on places such as Southampton, N.Y. (29 inches) and Groton, Conn. (24 inches).

And according to the U.S. Travel Association, the cancelled flights cost the economy $230 million in passengers’ lost activity.

Each cancelled domestic flight costs the economy $31,600, according to a formula U.S. Travel researchers developed. The estimate is based on airline traffic and on-time data, air traveler behavior and other data collected through surveys, and U.S. Travel proprietary economic models.

The figure accounts for the passengers on more than 7,000 cancelled flights and the spending they would otherwise inject into the economy, but it does not calculate the impact on the airline industry.

Then again, storms such as Tuesday’s do create value for some people and some sectors of the economy.

In cities and towns from New Jersey to Maine there are tens of thousands of dollars spent on plowing and salting the roads. In one part of Massachusetts, hired contract plowers are paid $75 to $140 an hour. Full story

Boeing: Fuel Savings Not Sole Factor In Aircraft Buys

Crews work on the engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last summer in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Crews work on the engine of an Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner last summer in Everett, Wash. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

Lower oil prices have not changed airlines’ plans to buy fuel-efficient Boeing airplanes, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said Wednesday.

“We see low fuel prices and positive traffic trends as beneficial to our industry and growth prospects,” McNerney said during a conference call with investment analysts and reporters.

He said fuel efficiency isn’t the sole factor in airlines’ decisions to buy new planes.

McNerney said last October, when oil prices were at about $85 a barrel, that they 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.

The Brent global benchmark is now under $50 a barrel.

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 22, 2015

FAA Urged To Move Faster On Technology Certification

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Just as the Federal Aviation Administration is under pressure from Congress to move more quickly on writing rules for commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, so too with an older industry: passenger airplanes.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster opened a hearing Wednesday on the FAA’s methods of certifying aircraft equipment by complaining that some of what the agency does “seems to be process simply for the sake of process.” Products and technology that can make aircraft safer “are often caught in a bureaucratic maze,” he said.

FAA is slower that agencies in other countries, Shuster said, which puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage to foreign competitors.

Full story

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