Common sense wins in US aviation bill

THE US House of Representatives has voted for an aviation Bill with many wins but some losses for the air cargo industry.

One important win was the decision to harmonise US regulations over the transportation of lithium batteries with the rest of the international community. The Bill removed a proposed amendment that would have made it almost impossible to carry the batteries – those that are found in many modern electronic consumer goods – into the country on freighter aircraft.

Intense lobbying was fought between foreign governments, such as South Korea, and industry who say the amendment would have seriously disrupted international ship, and pilots who claim the batteries’ tendency to spontaneously combust puts their lives at risk.

Curiously, Congressman Bob Filner withdrew his amendment with no reason and has refused all subsequent requests for an explanation why.

Aric Newhouse, senior vice-president for policy and government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers, had disagreed with the amendment, describing the amendment as “unnecessary” and “excessive” that it would have “considerable unintended consequences” marginalising America’s global competitiveness.

“Billions of lithium batteries are shipped via air cargo annually without incident. This flawed amendment would create massive disruptions in supply chains and…place unnecessary and cost-prohibitive burdens on manufacturers, ultimately reducing airfreight capacity and requiring massive supply chain redesign.”

An amendment to the bill would exempt some cargo airlines from regulations proposed by FAA to place new limits on pilot work schedules to prevent them from flying when they are suffering from fatigue. The National Transportation Safety Board has been pressing FAA for two decades to update its rules governing pilot work schedules.

An additional win, at least for air cargo companies rather than air cargo workers was the rejection of plans to standardise the ability of aviation workers to form unions with other US industries. Currently, all workers who refuse to vote are classed as a ‘no’ vote.
The House also rejected plans to limit the number of hours that cargo pilots could fly.

However, the Bill also proposes cutting governmental funding to the industry by US$4 billion over the next three years. This will have wide-ranging implications for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) operations and for the proposed US air traffic system upgrade.

“It absolutely will affect safety,” said Congressman Jerry Costello, despite advocates of the bill denying it would.

Congressman John Mica, chairman of the House transportation and infrastructure committee and the Bill’s main sponsor, said the FAA could reduce “bureaucratic staff”.

“I can tell you we can do more with less and we can prioritize,” he said,

The FAA has been planning to upgrade the US air traffic system from radar to satellite/GPS technology at a cost of up to $20 billion to the government and $22 billion to industry over the next decade.

Significantly, the Bill requires the FAA to give more weight to economic factors before proposing changes to safety rules, for it to “assess any adverse effects on the efficient functioning of the economy [and] private markets”.

The Bill must now be merged with the one voted in by the Senate in February.

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