US Department of Transportation’s Aviation Advisory Committee launches fix-it meeting

The US Department of Transportation’s Aviation Advisory Committee will hold its first meeting today as part of an effort to address US airline ills and measures to improve. The committee includes Republic Airways CEO, Bryan Bedford, JetBlue CEO, David Barger, who has been an administration adviser in the past, and United Chairman and CEO, Glenn Tilton, who has been carrying the banner on ways Washington could help airlines for the Air Transport Association, which he chairs.

Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, and Federal Aviation Administrator, Randy Babbitt, will be at the opening of the committee’s first session. It was created in March to provide information, advice and recommendations to the US Secretary of Transportation on challenges facing the aviation industry.

The advisory committee grew out of a forum last November hosted by Secretary LaHood on the future of the US aviation industry, during which he urged attendees to nominate potential committee members. The members selected represent airlines, airports, labour, manufacturers, environment, finance, academia, consumer interests and general aviation stakeholders. The committee will meet at least four times over the next year, after which it will report its recommendations to the secretary.

The effort has not received high marks in the industry which has seen similar commissions created, only to see the recommendations turn stale on some dusty Washington shelf. Indeed, business in general and aviation in particular no longer gets a warm reception in Washington, not that aviation ever did. The Obama Administration, which seems to be giving labour a blank cheque, has little but rejection for airline and aviation issues. Mr Obama came out of the gate condemning aviation with withering language aimed squarely at business jets, little realising that business aircraft constitute a huge contribution to the economy, especially when it comes to solid jobs.

Mr Obama also ignored airlines during the stimulus debate despite late pleas to use stimulus money to equip aircraft for NextGen. Recently, its appointees to the National Mediation Board overturned a 76-year-old rule making it easier for unions to organise labour groups at airlines. The Federal Aviation Administration ruled in favour of the Delta/US Airways slot swap, but put such conditions on it that the airlines are now suing. It also slapped the industry with the three-hour tarmac delay rule which will force more cancellations. The administration is also dragging its feet on approving the American-British Airways joint venture, which American expects to finally gain approval in the autumn. It now has the United-Continental merger before the Justice Department. See related report: Congressional hearings set for United-Continental merger

While the Bush administration's Justice Department approved the Delta-Northwest marriage, it was otherwise not terribly kind to the industry in which all but one of the legacy carriers filed for bankruptcy post-9/11. In fact, it has been about 15 years since the last commission was organised during the Clinton administration and several decades since aviation was anything more than a footnote in the big political or economic picture in Washington.

Most administrations have short-changed aviation in the budget and the inability to pass FAA reauthorisation has gone on so long most have lost track of exactly how many years it is we’ve been trying. This year looks much like the last for progress on passage of a new bill given the fact that fact the fiscal year ends in September. Legislators have set a July 3 deadline for completion of the critical legislation. The House and Senate must negotiate a reconciliation between their respective bills. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar’s proposed sunset of antitrust immunity for international airline joint ventures is a huge stumbling block.

As for the latest committee, Susan Kurland, Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at the Department of Transportation, will chair the committee. The other members are:

Juan Alonso, Associate Professor, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Stanford University; Susan Baer, Director, Aviation Department, Port Authority of NY/NJ; David Barger, President and CEO, JetBlue Airways Corporation; Bryan Bedford, Chairman, President and CEO, Republic Airways; Severin Borenstein, Professor, HAAS School of Business, University of California, Berkeley; Thella Bowens, President and CEO, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority; John Conley, International Administrative Vice President and Air Transport Division Director, Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO; Cynthia Egnotovich, Segment President, Nacelles and Interior Systems, Goodrich Corporation; Patricia Friend, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO; Robert Lekites, President, UPS Airlines; Ana McAhron-Schulz, Director of Economic and Financial Analysis, Air Line Pilots Association; William McGee, Consultant to the Consumers Union; Daniel McKenzie, U.S. Airlines Research Analyst, Hudson Securities; Jack Pelton, Chairman, President and CEO, Cessna Aircraft Company; Nicole Piasecki, Vice President, Business Development, Boeing Commercial Airplanes; Raul Regalado, President and CEO, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority; Glenn Tilton, Chairman, President and CEO, UAL Corporation; and Christopher Williams, Chairman and CEO, The Williams Capital Group.

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