Crash victims' families win victory in FAA bill

May 20, 2011 - 4:12 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican lawmaker on Friday withdrew a proposal that federal officials said would make it harder to write new aviation safety rules by requiring extensive economic studies.

Rep. Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania said he didn't want to delay passage of a bill authorizing Federal Aviation Administration programs and modernizing the air traffic control system. His decision effectively kills the proposal.

The airline and air cargo industries had sought the change, which the House added to a four-year, $59.7 billion FAA bill in March. The Senate bill doesn't have any such provision, and the issue had become a sticking point between House and Senate negotiators trying to resolve differences between the bills

Shuster's decision was a victory for the families of victims killed in an air crash near Buffalo, N.Y., two years ago. They have been campaigning for its elimination since the issue came up in late March. They said it would thwart FAA's effort to implement a sweeping aviation safety law enacted last year in response to the Buffalo accident.

Since 2007, the FAA has been limping along under a series of short-term extensions of its program authority. Current operating authority for FAA programs expires on May 31.

"It is apparent that the inclusion of my amendment in the FAA bill may slow down conference negotiations and delay the adoption of this critical legislation to dramatically reform and streamline Federal Aviation Administration programs, modernize the nation's aviation system, and spark much needed job-creation through aviation infrastructure improvements," Shuster said in a statement.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman and FAA officials told lawmakers the proposal would make writing safety regulations more complex and time-consuming. It would have required that the agency "assess any adverse effects on the efficient functioning of the economy, private markets — including productivity, employment and competitiveness — together with a quantification of such costs."

FAA is already required to assess the potential cost to industry of proposed regulations.

The airline industry, especially cargo carriers and nonscheduled airlines, opposes rules FAA is writing to prevent tired pilots from flying by limiting the hours they work and requiring more time off for rest. Industry officials estimate the rule would cost them $19.6 billion over 10 years, more than 15 times what the FAA estimated.

Family members had support from pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who successfully guided an airliner into the Hudson River in January 2009 after it lost power in a collision with Canada geese.

Earlier this month, about 30 family members fanned out across the Capitol carrying flyers with a red circle and slash — the international 'no' symbol — across Shuster's name. Family members also met privately with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, during a recent political trip to Western New York.

"We have finally beaten back this short-sighted amendment that would have made it tougher to implement the new safety regulations that air passengers deserve," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who supported the families' efforts. "This is a great day."

Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, said airlines supported Shuster's decision "as we believe that it is critical to get a FAA reauthorization bill finished after 18 extensions."