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Wed, Apr 30, 2008

S.1300 Makes Its Way Through Senate

Provision Addresses FAA Inspector Concerns

We're getting details now on the final form of the Senate's FAA reauthorization bill, which is expected to come to a full Senate vote by week's end. Like many federal bills, several additions have been tacked on as it proceeds through the sausage factory.

Dow Jones reports one provision would mandate a two-year wait before departing FAA inspectors could represent the airlines they oversaw in dealings with the FAA.
The aviation trust fund would be fed by higher taxes on fuel used by general aviation aircraft, and the FAA would get the formal go-ahead for next-gen air traffic control.

In further addressing an inspector-to-airline relationship criticized as "too cozy," the bill would require more than one inspector to sign off on any deal in which an airline voluntarily discloses a maintenance discrepancy in exchange for leniency. A new tracking system would watch for maintenance deadlines not met by airlines.

While it doesn't contain a full-on passengers bill of rights, Senate Bill 1300 does make important progress on the issue. The bill would require airlines to provide the DOT with contingency plans for providing food, water and clean restrooms to passengers during lengthy tarmac delays.

Of course, we've all heard that before... but what's new is an amendment by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, which would empower the Department of Transportation to accept, reject, or request revisions to those plans. Until now, DOT has ducked any enforcement responsibility, and the airlines have put forth only voluntary measures they later ignored.

It's not clear whether the new arrangement would give DOT any real teeth, or whether DOT would actually embrace its new role.

If S.1300 passes, it will face a fairly straightforward reconciliation with its counterpart in the House of Representatives. Its chances of a signature from President Bush are less certain, however... as it was the Bush administration which originally proposed funding the aviation trust fund in part with user fees on general aviation.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.senate.gov

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