Archive for March, 2010

Bill aims to speed up air traffic system overhaul (AP)

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 | Finance News

WASHINGTON – Transforming the nation's air traffic system by replacing World War II-era radar with 21st century GPS technology would be accelerated under a bill approved Monday by the Senate.

The $34.5 billion bill funds the Federal Aviation Administration through Sept. 30, 2011. It also addresses a series of safety concerns raised by the crash of a regional airliner last year near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people.

The centerpiece of the bill calls for key elements of the FAA's NextGen program to be in place at the busiest American airports by 2014. The system won't be fully in place for noncommercial aircraft until after 2020.

The nation's antiquated air traffic control system is a major source of airline delays.

The new system is projected to cost the FAA as much as $22 billion through 2025. Airlines would have to spend as much as $20 billion more to install equipment in their planes.

In the long term, the system is expected to save airlines money by allowing planes in crowded air corridors to take more direct routes and fly closer to each other without safety risks, reducing delays, saving energy and cutting down on pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions. Pilots will have real time information on the location of other aircraft.

The system is crucial to handling the expected growth in air traffic from about 700 million passengers in 2009 to the more than 1 billion annually by 2023.

The United States lags behind other nations in making the transition to the new technology, said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a key sponsor of the bill. Even Mongolia, he said, is further along.

"It's embarrassing," said Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

The bill, passed by a 93-0 vote, contains a provision authorizing the FAA to make grants to airlines to help cover equipment costs. Some airline executives have said that as much as they want the new system, they can't afford to put it in their planes.

Airlines have suffered repeated shocks over the past decade, including the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the SARS virus, volatile oil prices and the current economic downturn. They have shed more than 158,000 full-time jobs since employment peaked in 2001 and lost an estimated $30 billion to $60 billion in recent years.

Sponsors of the bill labored for a week to reach compromises with senators over amendments. Moments before passage of the bill, the Senate accepted without opposition a Rockefeller amendment containing some of those compromises.

Rockefeller's staff declined to release a copy of the amendment. However, a list obtained by The Associated Press showed more than a dozen provisions on issues ranging from flights over the Grand Canyon to air quality in airline cabins.

Among the safety measures in the bill is a requirement that FAA update how many hours airlines can require pilots to work and how much rest they must get between work days. Airlines would be required to have remedial training programs for pilots who fail skills tests or make other errors, and programs that use electronic data recorded during flights to spot safety trends before they cause an accident.

The bill also:

_Raises the minimum number of hours of flying experience an airline co-pilot must have from 250 hours to 800.

_Bans pilots from using personal electronic devices in the cockpit, a response to an incident last October in which pilots of a Northwest Airlines plane flew more than 100 miles past their destination of Minneapolis while they were working on their laptops.

_Doubles to twice a year the frequency of FAA inspections of foreign aircraft repair and maintenance stations that work on U.S. planes.

_Contains a "passenger bill of rights" that would require airlines to provide food, water and other amenities to passengers kept waiting on tarmacs and give them the opportunity to deplane after a three-hour wait.

That would give legal status to Transportation Department rules adopted in December that also limited tarmac waits to three hours and fine airlines up to $27,500 per passenger for violations.

_Authorizes $8 billion over two years for airport improvement projects, which supporters said would generate 150,000 jobs.

The House passed a three-year FAA funding bill last year that includes several contentious labor provisions not part of the Senate bill. The House bill would also raise the passenger facility charge, which goes to airports to pay for improvements, from $4.50 per ticket to $7. Differences between the two bills remain to be worked out.

___

Associated Press writer Jim Abrams contributed to this report.

___

On the Net:

FAA: http://www.faa.gov

Source

Obama praises committee vote on Wall St. rules (AP)

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 | Finance News

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is praising the Democrats' massive Wall Street regulation bill as it heads to the full Senate.

The Senate Banking Committee approved the measure along party lines Monday.

The legislation would give the government unprecedented powers to split up firms considered a threat to the economy, put together a council of regulators to watch for risks in the financial system, and create an independent consumer watchdog.

Obama says in a statement that the nation is "one step closer" to passing financial reform that he contends will bring oversight and accountability to the U.S. financial system.

Obama says the proposal will ensure taxpayers don't have to pay the price for Wall Street's irresponsibility.

Source

Senate passes bill updating air traffic system (AP)

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 | Finance News

WASHINGTON – The Senate has passed a bill that would speed the modernization of the nation's antiquated air traffic control system by replacing radar with GPS technology.

The bill was passed 93-0

The $34.5 billion bill requires key elements of the Federal Aviation Administration's NextGen program be in place as soon as 2014.

The new system is expected to alleviate airport congestion and delays by allowing planes to take more direct routes and fly closer to each other.

The bill also contains several measures expected to boost safety in response to last year's crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., which took 50 lives.

Differences between the Senate legislation and a House-approved bill must still be worked out.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bill that would modernize the nation's antiquated air traffic control system, a major source of delays and safety concerns, edged closer to Senate passage Monday.

The $34.5 billion bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration through Sept. 30, 2011, would speed up deployment of the NextGen program to replace the current air traffic system, based on World War II-era radar technology, with one based on GPS technology. It requires the FAA to have key elements of the system in place at the nation's busiest airports as soon as 2014, although a full transition for all aircraft isn't anticipated until around 2020.

The new system is projected to cost the FAA as much as $22 billion through 2025. Airlines would have to spend about $20 billion more to install equipment in their planes.

In the long term, the system is expected to save airlines money by allowing planes in crowded air corridors to take more direct routes and fly closer to each other without safety risks, reducing delays, saving energy and cutting down on pollution. The system is crucial to handling the expected growth in air traffic from about 700 million passengers in 2009 to the more than 1 billion forecast in 2023.

Still, some airline executives say that as much as they want the new system, they can't afford it. Airlines have been lobbying the Obama administration for funds to pay for equipment critical to achieving the new system's full benefits.

Airlines have suffered repeated shocks over the past decade, including the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the SARS virus, volatile oil prices and the current economic downturn. They have shed more than 158,000 full-time jobs since employment peaked in 2001 and lost an estimated $30 billion to $60 billion in recent years. Thirteen airlines have filed for bankruptcy in the past two years.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met in December with airlines and unions to discuss solutions to restoring financial health to the industry.

The Senate bill includes several enhanced safety measures that follow on the crash of a regional airliner in Buffalo, N.Y., in February 2009 that took 50 lives and the incident last October in which pilots of a Northwest Airlines plane flew more than 100 miles past their destination of Minneapolis while they were working on their laptops.

The bill bans pilots from using laptops and other personal electronic devices in the cockpit. It requires the FAA to update how many hours airlines can require pilots to be on duty and how much rest they must get between work days. The FAA is to require airlines to tighten pilot hiring criteria and have remedial training programs for pilots who fail skills tests or make other errors.

The bill also would double the frequency of FAA inspections of all foreign aircraft repair and maintenance stations that work on U.S. planes, requiring them twice a year instead of annually.

Airlines used to perform nearly all the major maintenance and repair work using their own workers. Over the last two decades, they have increasingly outsourced the work to domestic and foreign repair stations that use cheaper, nonunion labor.

The House passed a three-year FAA funding bill last year that includes several contentious labor provisions not part of the Senate bill. The House would also raise the passenger facility charge, which goes to airports to pay for improvements, from $4.50 per ticket to $7. Differences between the two bills remain to be worked out.

___

Associated Press writer Jim Abrams contributed to this report.

___

On the Net:

FAA: http://www.faa.gov

Source