On Thursday June 29th, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved with bipartisan support a bill to reauthorize federal aviation programs for four years. After the adoption of several amendments to a manger’s package, the bill was advanced unanimously by voice vote. The measure, which chose to exclude language that would privatize ATC operations, was moved through committee with little contention and now moves to a floor vote. Amendments adopted into the underlying bill included language to develop an airline passengers bill or rights, permit the use of PFC funds for security purposes, allow for different ways of accumulating 1,500 hours of flight training, expand waiver authority and extend UAS test site programs, allow for remote tower programs within the Contract Tower program, strengthen consumer protections for passengers with disabilities, and require a rulemaking on supersonic travel.
Thune #1 - Authorizes different ways for pilots to obtain or receive credit for 1,500 hours through training protocols that the FAA must first review and determine are safer than existing pathways.
- Thune: Expands training course eligibility but only when FAA determines that instruction provides enhanced safety benefit. Flight hours alone are not a good measure of pilot performance.
- Nelson: Let’s hope we can compromise. Regional carriers claim there is a pilot shortage, and they say by reducing hours they will get more. We already have rules that allow military pilots to need less hours. One of the ways to get more pilots is to pay them more. Captain Sully has been going around saying don’t reduce the hours.
- Blunt: How you get the 1,500 hours is more important than the hours themselves. I intend to vote for the amendment but with the understanding to further define this.
- Cantwell: I am for growing regional air service. I think we should think about how we should grow it. The Pilots Association does not support changing the rules. I believe it would be too early to push this issue out of the way. I think we could use grants to supplement the shortage.
- Nelson: The Democratic Leader is extremely involved in this issue because he represents so many families of the Colgan air crash. He has asked to convey that we work this out, but he would use whatever parliamentary tactics not to advance the bill if this amendment is passed.
Duckworth #1 to Thune #1 - Maintaining the Integrity of the 1,500 Hour Rule
- Duckworth: My amendment would close the loophole that would allow the FAA administrator to allow all types of training to be counted towards minimum flight hours rule. Lets not promote regional service by degrading pilot service and quality. FAA regulations are written in blood and your amendment would bring us back to the days where it was dangerous.
- Thune: Structured and disciplined training is what we are talking about. The FAA would have to approve if it is safer.
- Duckworth: The FAA had that authority before the law was passed and they just did not enforce it correctly. Since then, we have had a safety record that speaks for itself. The regional airlines that pay the lowest wages are the ones supporting this.
- Inhofe: This provision does not weaken things. I have been a commercial pilot for 60 years. I have watched the new types of training and simulation that were not there 30 years ago. I think it has been misrepresented. This is not eliminating hours; you could fly 1,500 hours and never experience icing that you could see in simulation. I oppose the second degree amendment.
- Cantwell: My concern is that these airlines have worked hard to brand themselves with great security. They would not get the same service and those pilots on regional carriers would have fewer qualifications than major carriers. I hope our major carriers would forego the brand name on these carriers. The American public needs to know which are less safe, and disclosure would then be the route we take if we go through with this.
- Thune: It is disclosed on your ticket if it is a regional airline. The pool for mainline airlines is regional pilots.
- Duckworth: By the time they get to the mainline airlines, they have met the required hours. The major airlines will not take pilots for these low hours and that’s because they have safety standards. The FAA already has the authority to supplement the number of hours and they have rejected them. Your loophole will bring in new programs that would not be as safe. I am concerned about watching videos, not simulators, and that would be considered structured, but that’s not a substitute for the real world experience.
- Thune: The FAA’s authority is temporary, and we are looking for something more permanent. It’s how we get to the 1,500 hours that change, not the actual hours.
- Blumenthal: There are smarter and safer ways to achieve that goal. Increase funding for rural air services which have been cut back. A first officer only earns $16,000 a year and we can take other steps to address that. We owe it to the families of the crashes and the traveling public.
- Motion on the Duckworth Amendment Failed by Recorded Vote of 13-14
- No: Wicker, Blunt, Cruz, Fischer, Moran, Sullivan, Heller, Inhofe, Lee, Johnson, Capito, Gardner, Young, Thune.
- Yes: Nelson, Cantwell, Klobuchar, Blumenthal, Schatz, Markey, Booker, Udall, Peters, Baldwin, Duckworth, Hassan, Cortez Masto.
- Motion on the Thune Amendment Adopted by Voice Vote.
Fischer #2 - Preempts States from enacting or enforcing a law, regulation, or other provision relating to meal or rest break requirements on motor carriers than those prescribed by the DOT.
- Hassan: I think the safety of roadways in states is important. I think this is a premature time and not the best bill to address this issue. I think it requires more complete debate.
- Fischer: We have had many hearings in subcommittee. It is important we see that trucking is a vital industry. It is an interstate commerce issue and it is difficult for them to comply with state law.
- Hassan: I think it would be more appropriate to consider it in a standalone bill. I think it is important to understand local topography and weather and how those issues may impact those aspects.
- Motion on the Fischer Amendment Adopted by Voice Vote.
Booker #5: Amendment Withdrawn
Booker: There is an increasing tendency for airlines in an effort to cut costs to outsource their ground functions. It becomes a race to the bottom that enables sub-standard wages that drains on public benefits. It’s great for airlines profits, but it allows airlines to keep unsavory practices that go on in sub-contractor companies. When you have violation of federal law, it raises concerns. I would like to work on it. We should only fly on airlines using our government dollars that comply with regulations.
Klobuchar: Amendment Withdrawn
Klobuchar: Fatigue rules do not apply to cargo pilots. We are not giving up on this.
Sullivan: Amendment Withdrawn
Increase funding in Essential Air Service. This is something that is important to rural states. When airlines went through deregulation they would have the potential to make service to smaller communities vulnerable.
Cantwell #2: Amendment Withdrawn
Cantwell: I hope we will keep working on the flight attendants rest rule. I hope we can give them the same rest rules as pilots.