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Politico - No One-Size-Fits-All Flight Regulations

Op-Ed

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By: Sens. Jim Inhofe and Lisa Murkowski

The Senate is soon due to vote on our amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill, which would require the FAA to conduct a separate flight crew duty and rest rulemaking proceeding for supplemental air carriers. The current rulemaking proceeding, effective last September, combines supplemental carriers with scheduled airlines.

This vote is likely to have a major impact on an industry that is of critical importance to our economy and to our military operations in the war on terror.

Supplemental, or non-scheduled, air carriers are those that provide specialty flying services or air transport of passengers and cargo with no regular routes and no regular schedules, using general purpose aircraft. They play a key role in transporting military equipment and personnel. Among other activities, this sector of the air industry includes those that provide air ambulance service, fight forest fires and operate flight schools.

Scheduled air carriers transport passengers and cargo over regular routes on regular schedules, and include domestic cargo carriers as well as passenger flights on major airlines.

There has been some confusion recently about what our amendment does. Some have said it will prevent the FAA from issuing new safety regulations for supplemental carriers. Some have called it a carve-out.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The FAA is still free to regulate supplemental carriers as it sees fit. All the amendment requires is that if the FAA issues a new rule, the agency would consider supplemental carriers and scheduled airlines separately. They are, after all, two very different industries.

In the current rulemaking proceeding, the FAA collected data from scheduled airlines to analyze their operations but acknowledged in the Regulatory Impact Analysis that it collected no data from non-scheduled airlines. The proposed rule, therefore, was written specifically for scheduled airlines -- and non-scheduled airlines were ignored.

The FAA has a legal obligation, however, to examine the impact of this proposed rule on all segments of industry, which they failed to do.

As for this amendment being a carve-out, everyone must understand that the current regulations already treat supplemental and scheduled carriers differently.

Supplemental carriers now operate under 14 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 121 Subpart S, which recognizes the peculiar operating environment in which they fly. Subpart S has been part of the code since 1964, so the so-called carve-out has existed for more than 50 years, and proved a very safe rule.

In more than 15 years, the National Transportation Safety Board has not cited fatigue as the primary cause in any non-scheduled airline accident while flying under these rules. There have been no fatalities in any accident where fatigue was even remotely considered a contributing factor.

These carriers perform critical missions in support of the war on terror. Every day, their planes shuttle troops and supplies between the continental United States, our staging bases in Europe and the Middle East and theaters of operation. Without their contribution, the operations tempo required to successfully prosecute two wars and sustain our troops deployed across the globe would simply be untenable.

They fly 95 percent of all military passengers and 40 percent of military cargo. Military requirements often change at the last moment, and these missions must be performed in unpredictable circumstances. The flexibility built into Subpart S allows supplemental carriers to perform these operations day in and day out.

Without this flexibility, additional crews would need to be pre-positioned or additional military assets used. We don't have enough of either to adequately perform such missions.

The 13 major non-scheduled U.S. carriers estimate $3.7 billion in additional costs over 10 years due to this rule. When we are facing a shrinking defense budget and a difficult economic climate, the FAA should not be considering new regulations that would drive up costs for carriers or the Defense Department.

Frankly, it is surprising that the proposed rule made it through the inter-agency process. But now the Defense Department is beginning to take note. Considering President Barack Obama's recent executive order that instructed his administration to review regulations that hinder economic growth and job creation, the FAA's NPRM as it affects these small and medium-sized carriers seems strangely misguided.

Certainly, we must focus on aviation safety. But we can do so fairly by treating each industry according to its needs. Our amendment simply requires that the FAA consider Subpart S separately when it issues new rules affecting flight crew duty and rest requirements.

This amendment does not prevent new safety regulations for supplemental carriers. This is not an attempt to replace the FAA's expertise in safety. It merely ensures fairness. Instead of being lumped together with the scheduled airlines, supplemental carriers would have their industry data considered on its own merits -- and be regulated according to the safety requirements of their unique operations.

Considering the impact this regulation could have on their business -- and the mission they fulfill for this nation -- they deserve as much.


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