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Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for yielding the time.

But more than that, thank you for persistent, vigorous and insightful and creative leadership you've given to the entire reauthorization of FAA, but especially to this particular safety issue. You've given your heart, your soul, your time, your energy; and we're now at a point of making an extraordinary difference in the history of aviation safety.

Our Constitution has a unique provision, unlike that in any other constitution I'm aware of. It prescribes the right of the citizens to petition their government for redress of grievances.

The families of the victims of the Colgan Continental express flight that crashed February 12 of last year have exercised that right with vigor, with persistence, with highmindedness. They know, as the families of all the victims of transportation tragedies, that they can't bring back the lives of those they loved, but they can do something to make sure it won't happen again to others.

I've seen the tears in their eyes that reflect the pain in their hearts. I've experienced their determination never to give up.

I've also stood at the site of the grim tragedy of the Mesaba Airlines commuter crash, only 6 miles from my home in Chisholm, Minnesota; the flight path toward the Chisholm Hibbing Airport in December 1993, where 19 people lost their lives because that aircraft didn't have a ground proximity warning system.

It wasn't required for commuter airlines, because there was a mismatch between pilot and copilot, because there was an inadequacy of training on the one hand and a mismatch of personalities and of skills and of abilities to manage aircraft under unusual circumstances.

I vowed to the families we would make a difference, Congress would act. And we were able to require the regional airlines to have ground proximity warning systems, regardless of the cost to the airlines. That's their problem. They can figure that out. And vowed to move to have more equitable management in the flight deck of matching of pilots and first officers. That was not as successful. Didn't have enough time before, frankly, we lost the majority.

But I also stood with my colleagues on the Pan Am 103 Commission in Lockerbie, Scotland, at the abyss, this trench that was carved in the Earth where that 747 exploded that killed 271 people. And we vowed to each other and to the families of Pan Am 103 to make a difference, to make the airways safer. Our report of 64 recommendations we took in this committee, which I chaired at the time, the Aviation Subcommittee, which Mr. Costello now chairs, 63 of the 64 recommendations, translated them into legislative language in the House and in the Senate, and moved a bill through the House to make aviation safer. We didn't get everything we asked for. We got 98 percent of it.

There was much more yet to be done, and more happened after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It should not require loss of life and tragedy and pain in the hearts, pain in the lives of people to make these changes for aviation safety and security.

The opening paragraphs of the FAA Act of 1958 says, ``Safety shall be maintained at the highest possible level.'' Not the level the airlines can afford. Not the level the airlines want. Not the level that the airline executives choose to provide. The highest possible level. That is where we go with this legislation.

This bill passed the House last year. We sent a separate safety bill over to the other body when they didn't act. We have cajoled and wheedled and tried and pushed and moved, but holds, and hot holds, and threats of filibuster, and failure to break filibuster, and failure to agree in the other body have held up the entire FAA authorization bill.

The Senate bill had no provision comparable to this safety provision in their bill. The families of the victims, exercising their right to petition the government, broke the logjam, broke the indifference and the resistance in the other body. We are on the verge of a citizen triumph in safety.

Let us all work earnestly to ensure this bill passes the other body, goes to the President, is signed into law, and that never again citizens have to petition to make things right for safety.

Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.R. 5900, the ``Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010''.

This bill ensures that aviation programs, taxes, and Airport and Airway Trust Fund expenditure authority will continue without interruption pending completion of long-term Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization legislation. Because the long-term bill will not be completed before the current authority for aviation programs expires at the end of this week, H.R. 5900 is needed to extend aviation programs, taxes, and expenditure authority for an additional two months, through September 30, 2010.

The most recent long-term FAA reauthorization act, the Vision 100--Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-176), expired on September 30, 2007. Although the House passed an FAA reauthorization bill during the 110th Congress, and again last year, the Senate failed to act until March of this year. The FAA has, therefore, been operating under a series of short-term extension acts, the most recent of which expires on August 1, 2010.

Since passage of the Senate bill in March, we have been working diligently to resolve the differences between the House and Senate bills. To be frank, I had hoped that the House would pass a negotiated, comprehensive, multi-year FAA reauthorization bill this week. We are close to a final package with the Senate, with very few issues left on the table. As it stands now, the negotiated bill would provide the aviation sector with the stability of a multi-year authorization, safety reforms, record-high capital investment levels, several provisions that would accelerate the Next Generation Air Transportation System effort, and a passenger bill of rights.

Unfortunately, the FAA reauthorization bill is hung up in the Senate, primarily over a provision that would significantly increase the number of long-distance flights at Washington National Airport. The Senate provision was included in neither the House-passed nor Senate-passed FAA bills, and it is strongly opposed by Members of Congress and Senators who represent the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region because, they argue, it would create a burden for Washington National Airport by creating congestion at terminals and siphoning passengers away from Washington Dulles International Airport. I also have concerns that the provision, as written, would unduly benefit dominant incumbent carrier, US Airways.

Madam Speaker, on the night of February 12, 2009, a Colgan Air flight operating as Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed in Buffalo, New York, killing 50 people. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation that followed rocked the airline industry, stunned the American public, and identified the need to closely examine the regulations governing pilot training and rest requirements, with a particular focus on regional airlines.

In response to this tragedy, the Subcommittee on Aviation held a series of hearings, receiving testimony from the FAA, the NTSB, the Department of Transportation Inspector General, pilots' unions, airline representatives, and the representatives of the Colgan 3407 Families.

With regard to the Colgan 3407 Families, they have been a driving force behind aviation safety reform legislation. In the last 17 months they have come to Washington, D.C., more than 30 times to push for legislation. They have served the American public well. It is time to let them go home now, to know that they have made a difference, to put closure on this tragedy and to pick up the pieces of their lives. Moreover, safety is our highest priority. Therefore, this extension act includes the airline safety and pilot training provisions that we have been able to negotiate with the Senate. These safety provisions will dramatically upgrade the training and experience necessary to be an airline pilot. Key features of this legislation include:

Requiring all airline pilots to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, which requires a minimum of 1,500 flight hours; the current requirement is 250 flight hours.

Directing the FAA to update and implement new flight and duty time rules for pilots within one year, to more adequately address the results of scientific research in the field of fatigue.

Requiring FAA to ensure that pilots are trained on how to recover from stalls and upsets and that airlines provide remedial training to pilots who need it.

Establishing a pilot records database to provide airlines with fast, electronic access to a pilot's comprehensive record.

Some have argued that these safety provisions are one of the strongest selling points of a comprehensive FAA reauthorization package, and that by moving these provisions separately we may put the larger bill in jeopardy. We believe that moving these safety reforms right now, as part of an extension act, is simply the right thing to do. Moreover, we see no reason why Congress cannot return in September and work through the very few remaining issues in a larger FAA bill. We view these safety provisions as just a preview of a very strong comprehensive aviation package that this Congress will deliver for the American public in a matter of weeks.

I thank Chairman LEVIN of the Committee on Ways and Means for his assistance in ensuring the continued operation of aviation and highway programs. I also thank my Committee colleagues--Ranking Member MICA, Subcommittee on Aviation Chairman COSTELLO, and Ranking Member PETRI--for working with me on this critical legislation.

I strongly urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 5900.


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