February 16, 2011

Rahall Chides Choking Off Air Service to Rural Communities, Fights to Save American Jobs

Washington, D.C.– U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, today attempted to fend off efforts by Committee Republicans to decrease air passenger safety, cut American jobs, compromise the health and safety of workers and the flying public, and diminish aviation and economic options for rural communities.  The Committee approved by a vote of 34-25 a controversial four-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authored by Republicans and introduced just five days ago.

“It is of the utmost importance that we move forward on a long-term reauthorization, in terms of providing stability in funding and certainly, with respect to enhancing safety for the flying public,” said Rahall.  “With this said, I cannot support the pending legislation.  There are two items in particular included in the pending measure which constitute a collective poke in my eyes.”

The most recent long-term FAA reauthorization act expired September 30, 2007 and Congress has passed a series of short-term acts extending the FAA’s authority to administer aviation programs and to receive tax proceeds. The Republican “FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011,” introduced last Friday, is a four-year bill, covering fiscal years (FY) 2011 to 2014.  The Republican FAA bill would deny a voice to aviation and railroad workers and would break the commitment made to rural communities to ensure all Americans have access to air travel.

“By cutting off this critical lifeline, Republicans are telling rural Americans that the FAA now stands for ‘find another airport,’ and I am severely disappointed that partisan politics are being put above the passenger public,” said Rahall.  “Denying a voice to aviation and railroad workers has no business in the pending legislation.  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.”

Although the bill’s sponsors claim that the bill omits controversial provisions that stalled FAA reauthorization in the last Congress, there are several highly controversial aspects of the Republican FAA bill that Democrats fought aggressively to amend during today’s markup.

?The Republican FAA bill would eliminate the Essential Air Service (EAS) for 110 rural communities across the country.

As part of the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, Congress created the 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.

“EAS is a vital lifeline between rural communities and the global network of commerce.  Small and rural communities have grown up around EAS, which directly supports local jobs, creates a flow of goods and commerce into and out of small towns, brings families together, and links four communities in my home state of West Virginia with other cities and towns around the country and around the world,” said Rahall.  “I will continue to work with my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion to honor the promise that Congress has made to people in rural America, recognizing the job-protecting benefits of the EAS program and the value of this critical Federal investment for rural communities.”

?The Republican FAA bill would 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.

“The new rule, which this bill would overturn, says that the mediation board must count the votes among those employees who voted, and must determine the will of the workers according to the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes actually cast.  That is fair, and it should be the rule,” said Rahall.  “Just as Congressional and Presidential elections turn on the majority of those who voted, union representation elections should reflect the will of the voters.”

Aviation Subcommittee Democratic Ranking Member Jerry F. Costello (D-IL) offered an amendment to strip this provision and ensure that ballots in union representation elections are counted just like ballots in any other democratic election.  Republicans blocked this democratic protection by a vote of 29-30.

?The Republican FAA bill would drastically cut funding for the agency, jeopardizing jobs and safety-sensitive programs.

Marion Blakey, an FAA administrator under President Bush and now the president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, stated that “the prospect is really devastating to jobs and to our future, if we really have to roll back [to 2008 levels] and stop NextGen in its tracks.”

FAA officials indicate budget levels would likely trigger drastic cut backs and cancellations of core Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) programs and would require the agency to furlough hundreds of safety-related employees.