WASHINGTON, D.C. — This is going to be a busy year in Washington for aviation. Expect confrontations between various segments of aviation, between the FAA and some of its employees, between the government and some users, between the FAA and certificate holders, and possibly within the political parties.
We already know about the user fee struggle that is pitting the airlines against general aviation. There might well be confrontations within the political parties on this issue. Rep. James Oberstar, the new chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a Democrat from Minnesota, is on record opposing user fees. In the Senate, Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, is also opposed to fees. Both might find struggles within their own parties on the issue. Everyone expects the budget submitted by President Bush to call for new financing for the FAA.
Air traffic controllers are feuding with FAA management over several subjects. One is outdated equipment or, worse, no equipment. The FAA has banned cell phones, weather radios and commercial radios from air traffic control facilities. This policy almost brought tragedy when a tornado was approaching the Daytona Beach International Airport, where Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is located, on Christmas day. At the same time the tornado was approaching, so too were a Comair passenger jet and a single-engine Cessna. Six controllers working in the control tower cab and radar room had no warning as the tornado roared within 150 yards of the facility. Loss of commercial power and then backup power at approach prevented that facility from alerting the Comair crew or the tower controllers to the imbedded tornado. While the Comair jet landed at Daytona, the Cessna was diverted to another airport.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) is playing up this incident in its ongoing battle with FAA. NATCA says use of weather radios and commercial broadcasts are needed to secure the latest information and that denying them to facilities is done to “”punish controllers.””
An FAA proposal to replace paper certificates and registrations with counterfeit-resistant plastic over the next five years indicates the expectation that the struggle against illegality is not going away. The most recent example, the FAA says, is in response to the Drug Enforcement Assistance Act. The FAA has asked for comments — to be submitted by March 6 — about a proposed rule to replace all pilot certificates within two years. Other certificates, such as those for flight engineers and mechanics, would have to be changed within the next five years.
A new ethics package announced by House Democrats, which forbids the use of corporate jets, is stirring up concerns among members of the lower house as well as among corporations that help elected officials with travel. Wording might be construed to mean that members couldn’t even use their own personal aircraft for travel. By the time this item appears in print members might have corrected this flaw.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent.