April 01, 2011

Controversial Republican FAA Bill Destroys American Jobs, Breaks Promise with Rural Americans, Denies Voice to American Workers

Washington, D.C.– Just one week after two airliners landed at Washington National Airport without landing clearances due to an alleged sleeping air traffic supervisor, Republicans in the House of Representatives today passed legislation that will decrease air passenger safety, destroy American jobs, deny a voice to working Americans, and diminish aviation and economic options for rural communities.

“’Do more with less:’ that is how the Republicans think the FAA will operate under this bill.  When we are talking about investing in air traffic control modernization, or regulating safety, or hiring a sufficient number of safety inspectors, there is no such thing as ‘doing more with less,’” said U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  “Under this bill, the FAA will have to do less with less, and you would have to be asleep at the controls not to see that.”

The House approved by a vote of 223 – 196 the “FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011” (H.R. 658), a controversial four-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  The bill would make drastic cuts to the FAA, which would have dire consequences for the Nation’s infrastructure, jobs and the economy – costing 70,000 American jobs.  According to the FAA, the proposed cuts would lead to a reduction in safety personnel and delay important safety initiatives, including important rulemakings to improve airline safety.

“One thing we should all be honest about right now – this is not a jobs bill.  You cannot cut funding so dramatically without destroying tens of thousands of jobs: Federal jobs, state jobs, local jobs, public and private sector jobs,” said Rahall.  “In addition to costing jobs, the bill’s funding cuts would cause delays to air traffic control modernization – meaning more delayed flights – a reduction of FAA’s safety workforce and delays to FAA safety rules.”

As part of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Congress created the Essential Air Service (EAS) program to distribute Federal subsidies to air carriers for providing air service to and from selected small communities that would not, absent the subsidies, receive service.  The Republican FAA bill would eliminate EAS subsidies for nearly 110 rural communities across the country.

“The bill extends airport improvement funding to the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.  We do not even own them – they are independent countries.  I understand the reasons for providing airport improvement funds to keep these island nations.  We have a compact with them,” said Rahall.  “But in seeking to keep faith with our agreements with those countries, the Majority is more than willing to break the promise to rural America right here at home that was made under the Airline Deregulation Act and the FAA reauthorization bills that followed.”

The Republican FAA bill would also repeal a Federal rule finalized last year that provides for fair union representational elections by ensuring that votes for and against union representation among airline and railroad workers are counted fairly and democratically.

“Just as Congressional elections turn on the majority of those who voted, union representation election should reflect the will of the voters.  A provision to overturn that rule simply has no business being in this legislation,” said Rahall.  “It has nothing to do with safety, it has nothing to do with improving our air transportation system, and it has nothing to do with making air service more efficient.  Rather, it is a lightning rod of controversy – party of a concerted assault on collective-bargaining.”

Representative Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry F. Costello (D-IL) offered an amendment to strip this undemocratic anti-union language from the bill.  Nearly along party lines, Republicans put partisan politics above the rights of working Americans and blocked the amendment by a vote of 206 – 220.

The House adopted an amendment offered by Representative Bill Shuster (R-PA) by a vote of 215-209 that could seriously undermine efforts to achieve “one level of safety” in aviation.  The amendment would delay the FAA from imposing important safety improvements by requiring unnecessary and repetitive analysis that will drain resources and time.

"This controversial bill compromises safety and passed with the smallest margin of any FAA bill in decades.  The Shuster amendment represents a major step backward from the historic safety gains signed into law last Congress, while the National Mediation Board provision needs to be removed because it is unfair and jeopardizes passage of the final bill, as the President has said he will veto the bill if it contains this language,” said Representative Jerry F. Costello (D-IL), top Democrat on the Aviation Subcommittee.  “As we move to conference, we need to enact a fair and comprehensive bill that furthers safety and advances our transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System.  I will continue to work towards that goal.”

“When it comes to doing “more with less,” my friends on the other side of the aisle are correct about a few things when it comes to the pending legislation.  More than 70,000 jobs lost with less funding for the Airport Improvement Program.  More risks to the traveling public with less safety personnel and initiatives.  More assaults on collective bargaining rights for American workers.  More controversial poison pill provisions with less focus on job creation and safety enhancements,” said Rahall.  “With warning lights flashing and alarm bells ringing, we cannot afford to go to sleep at the controls at such an important time for our aviation system.”