Senate legislation on the floor this week to modernize the nation’s air traffic control system might draw amendments aimed at expanding passenger rights, alleviating congestion and increasing airline safety.
A manager’s amendment will be offered to the FAA reauthorization bill that adds to a Commerce Committee-approved “passenger bill of rights” to require the Transportation Department to approve airline plans to address long waits on the tarmac, an aide for Commerce Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said. The manager’s amendment would create a four-member department consumer protection advisory board, the aide said.
The bill requires airlines to provide passengers stuck on the tarmac food, water and clean bathrooms as well as determine when and how passengers can leave a delayed plane.
It requires airlines to submit contingency plans to DOT and be made public but does not require the department to approve them. This encompasses pieces of legislation by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
On Monday, the Senate voted 88-0 to limit debate on proceeding to the FAA bill. It is unclear whether a deal is in the works on what amendments may be offered.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is working on several amendments including prohibiting the department from finalizing a plan to auction off slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
On April 16, the department announced two proposals to relieve delays at LaGuardia, whose congestion problems have affected airports nationwide. Under one option, all air carriers would be given up to 20 slots per day for 10 years. Over the next five years, 8 percent of additional slots used by an airline would be made available to any carrier through an auction and an additional 2 percent of the slots would be eliminated. The second option gives airlines permanent access to up to 20 slots daily for 10 years and beyond that, 20 percent of the slots used by airlines would be made available to all airlines via auction.
The department said both options are intended to make more efficient use of the airspace. Schumer opposes auctioning slots because it is “untested” and would “potentially crowd out mid-size airlines that will be competing dollar for dollar” with bigger airlines, an aide said. Another possible Schumer amendment would permanently open up airspace from New York to Florida that President Bush temporarily opened during Thanksgiving weekend.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., might offer language requiring FAA to better address runway incursions. GAO has recommended FAA prepare a national runway safety plan, address controller overtime and fatigue, and start a voluntary, confidential and nonpunitive program for controllers to report safety risks, similar to a program already established for pilots.
FAA has not updated its national runway safety plan since 2002, despite agency policy that this should be done every two to three years. “The law right now is very clear to what a runway needs to be to be in compliance,” a Lautenberg aide said.
This article appears in the May 3, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.