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Aug 28, 2016

The Federal Aviation Administration performs the essential work of keeping airplanes from crashing into each other in the sky; in this episode, we take a look at the new law that temporarily funds the FAA and makes some important changes to aviation law. We also travel back in time to the week after 9/11 to examine the origin of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and we examine some ideas that the current leaders of Congress have for the future of air travel in the United States and beyond.

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H.R. 636: FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016

Title I: FAA Extension


Title II: Aviation Safety Critical Reform


Drone Safety

Time Sensitive Aviation Reform

  • By July 2017, regulations must be in effect requiring airlines to automatically refund bag fees to anyone whose bags are not delivered within 12 hours after the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours after the arrival of an international flight.
  • FAA needs to submit a report, including public comments, about the risks of eliminating contract weather observer service at 57 airports and can not discontinue contract weather observer service before October 1, 2017.
  • FAA must enact regulations requiring pilots of small airplanes to have driver's licenses and pass all medical tests required for a drivers license, completes a medical education course,
  • Airlines will have to let passengers off a plane if it's waiting on the tarmac for 3 hours of a domestic flight or 4 hours for an international flight.
Title III: Aviation Security

TSA PreCheck Expansion

Securing Aviation from Foreign Entry Points and Guarding Airports Through Enhanced Security

Aviation Security Enhancement and Oversight

Checkpoints of the Future

Sound Clip Sources: Hearings

Hearing: Aviation Security, Joint House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Senate Appropriations Committee, September 20, 2001. Witnesses:

  • Gerald Dillingham, Associate Director of the General Accounting Office
  • Jane Garvey, Administration, FAA
  • Kenneth Mead, Inspector General of the Department of Transportation
  • Norman Mineta, Secretary of the Department of Transportation
  • Hank Queen, Vice President of Boeing’s Engineering and Product Integrity division

Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {54:15} Kenneth Mead: Given the scope and complexity of the security challenge as we know it now, coupled with the long-standing history of problems with the aviation security program, I think the time’s come to revisit the option of vesting governance of the program and responsibility for the provision of security in one federal organization or not-for-profit federal corporation. This doesn’t mean that everybody has to be a federal employee, but it does mean a much more robust federal presence and control. That entity would have security as its primary and central focus, profession, and mission. Under our current system, we’ve asked FAA to oversee and regulate aviation security, and those charged with providing the security—the airlines and the airports—themselves face other priorities, missions, and indeed, in some cases, competing economic pressures. And I think a centralized, consolidated approach with a security mission would require passenger and baggage screeners to have uniform, more rigorous training, and performance standards applicable nationwide, and I think that would result in more consistent security across this country and have higher quality also.
  • {1:22:46} Harold Rogers: Now, I want to ask you about Dulles. Did you check on the employees of the screening operation at Dulles Airport?Kenneth Mead: Yes. We’re checking on the citizens— Harold Rogers: Tell us the makeup of the staff there, in terms of their citizenship in the U.S., for example. Kenneth Mead: Yes. A substantial percentage of them are not U.S. citizens. Harold Rogers: What percent? Kenneth Mead: I think it’s about 80%. It may be somewhat more.
  • {1:26:40} Harold Rogers: What about the turnover rate, Mr. Dillingham? I’ve been reading the GAO’s report on aviation security, issued June of 2000. I think you’re the principal author, are you not?Gerald Dillingham: Yes, sir. Harold Rogers: Tell us about the type of personnel that’s screening companies you’re hiring around the country at the airports to screen for terrorists. Gerald Dillingham: Let me go back just a little bit to the point you raised before. Screeners don’t have to be U.S. citizens. They can have a resident alien card as well. The other point you raised with regard to Argenbright, I think Argenbright is also a foreign-owned company as well. And with regard to the types of personnel that are being hired, one of the requirements is that you have a high school diploma or a GED. We have not checked the records of individual companies, but in the course of doing our work, we clearly got the idea that this was not a job where you would find the most skilled workers. Harold Rogers: They’re minimum-wage jobs, are they not? Gerald Dillingham: Yes, sir. Harold Rogers: And the turnover rate is exorbitantly high, is it not? Gerald Dillingham: Yes, sir. Harold Rogers: In one airport the turnover rate is 400% a year, correct? Gerald Dillingham: Yes, sir. Harold Rogers: In Atlanta it’s 375% a year. At Baltimore-Washington, 155; Boston Logan, 207; Chicago O’Hare, 200; and Houston, 237% a year; at St. Louis, 416% a year. Is that correct? Gerald Dillingham: Yes, sir. Harold Rogers: So these are untrained, inexperienced, the lowest-paid personnel, many of them certainly noncitizens, and by a company that got the contract by the lowest bid. Gerald Dillingham: Yes, sir. Harold Rogers: Now, what’s wrong with this picture? Gerald Dillingham: I think the picture is clear to everyone.
  • {2:28:58} Carolyn Kilpatrick: This company that’s in 46 airports, that had the low-bid contract, that’s noncitizens, that handles securities, and has criminal convictions, who hired them?Norman Mineta: The airline is the one that contracts with each… Carolyn Kilpatrick: An airline. One airline. So did they all go together and hire them, or each airline hires them on its own? Norman Mineta: The airline hires the company and then the airlines—well, let me have Ken maybe go into that because he’s maybe got the list of airports with the contractors. Kenneth Mead: Yeah. The different airlines can hire the same security company, and that does happen. Carolyn Kilpatrick: Obviously. Low bids, so they’re going for cheapness. Kenneth Mead: Right. And some airports, Dulles, for example, you have the airlines get together there, and they hire one vendor, and in the case of Dulles, it’s Argenbright. In the case of other airports, where you have an airline, say, that has a dedicated concourse, and you have two or three concourses at that airport, you may have, in fact, three different firms providing the security— Carolyn Kilpatrick: Okay, thank you. Kenneth Mead: —each hired by a separate airline.

Hearing: Review of ATC Reform Proposals, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, February 10, 2016.


  • Mr. Paul Rinaldi, President, National Air Traffic Controllers Association Written Testimony
  • Mr. Nicholas E. Calio, President and Chief Executive Officer, Airlines for America Written Testimony
  • Mr. Ed Bolen, President and CEO, National Business Aviation Association Written Testimony
  • Mr. Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy, Reason Foundation Written Testimony

Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {13:00} Bill Shuster: A key reform in this bill takes the ATC out of the Federal Government, and establishes a federally chartered, independent, not-for-profit corporation to provide that service. This corporation will be governed by a board representing the system’s users.
  • {17:55} Bill Shuster: But I just want to say that August of this year, Canadians will launch their first satellites into space, and by the end of 2017, they will have over 70 satellites launched. They will have their GPS system up in space. Currently, today, we can only see 30 percent of the airspace on our current technology. When they deploy those 70 or so satellites, they will be able to see 100 percent of the airspace in the globe, the Canadians. I am told there’s already 15 or 16 countries that have signed up for their services. So Canadians, the NAV CAN, and their partners, they’re developing this system. I believe they are going to become the dominant controller of airspace in the world. They’re going to be able to fly planes over the North Atlantic and over the Pacific, straighter lines, closer together, more efficiently; and that’s when we’re going to really see our loss in leadership in the world, when it comes to controlling airspace and being the gold standard.
  • {19:10} Bill Shuster: Again, this corporation we’re setting up is completely independent of the Federal Government. This is not a government corporation, a quasi-governmental entity, or a GSE. It is not that. The Federal Government will not back the obligations, the financial obligations, for this corporation. The corporation will simply provide a service.
  • {27:27} Pete DeFazio: We’re talking about an asset—no one’s valued it—worth between $30 billion and $50 billion that will be given to the private corporation free of charge. That’s unprecedented. There have been two privatizations: one privatization in Canada—they paid $1.4 billion; it was later found that it was undervalued by about $1 billion. I believe in Britain they paid a little over $1 billion for it. We’re going to take a much larger entity, controlling a lot of real estate, some in some very expensive areas like New York City, and we are going to give it to a private corporation, and the day after they establish, they can do with those assets whatever they wish. They can sell them, and we have no say.
  • {30:11} Pete DeFazio: If someone controls the routes, and they control the conditions under which you access those routes, and they control the investment in the system itself, which means maybe we don’t want to invest in things that serve medium and small cities—they aren’t profit centers; why should we be putting investment there—you know, we are keeping control of the airspace? I guess there’s some technical way we’re keeping control of it, but none of that will be subject to any elected representative.
  • {1:00:05} Ed Bolen: Our nation’s air traffic control system is a monopoly, and it will stay a monopoly, going forward. The airlines, for 30 years, have been lobbying Congress so that they can seize control of that natural monopoly and exert their authority over it. We think that is a fatally flawed concept. The public airspace belongs to the public, and it should be run for the public’s benefit. Do we really think that, given control of this monopoly, the airlines would run it for every American’s benefit? Reading the headlines over the past year would suggest that’s probably not the case. ‘‘Airline Consolidation Hits Small Cities the Hardest,’’ wrote the Wall Street Journal; ‘‘Justice Department Investigating Potential Airline Price Collusion,’’ wrote the Washington Post; ‘‘Airline Complaints on the Rise’’ was a headline in the Hill; ‘‘Airlines Reap Record Profits and Passengers Get Peanuts.’’ That appeared in the New York Times this past weekend.
  • {1:02:30} Ed Bolen: We’re talking about giving them unbridled authority to make decisions about access, about rates, charges, about infrastructure. This is a sweeping transfer of authority.
  • {1:31:12} Don Young: Will the gentleman yield? Let’s talk about the board.Bill Shuster: Certainly. Don Young: You got four big airlines board members. Bill Shuster: Right. Don Young: NATCA now is supporting it. And I question that, by the way. I fought for you every inch of the way, and we want to find out what is behind that. General aviation has one. Unknown: Two. Don Young: Two? Unknown: General aviation has two. Don Young: OK, two. Where’s the other one? Bill Shuster: Two to the government. Don Young: Two—and who are they going to be? Do we have any input on that? No. We do not. The president has—— Bill Shuster: The Department of Transportation will have it. Don Young: The president. And we’re the Congress of the United States. I’d feel a lot better if we were to appoint them. Why should we let a president appoint them? This is our job as legislators. If we’re going to change the system, let us change it with us having some control over it, financially. And the board members should be appointed from the Congress. I am not going to give any president any more authority. That is the wrong—we have done this over and over again. We give the president—we might as well have a king. I don’t want a king.

Hearing: Airport Security Wait Times, House Homeland Security Committee, May 25, 2016. Witness:

  • Peter Neffenger, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

Timestamps and Transcripts

  • {09:20} Bennie Thompson: In fiscal year 2011, there were approximately 45,000 TSOs screening 642 million passengers. In FY 2016, TSA had 3,000 fewer TSOs screening roughly 740 million anticipated passengers, almost 100 million more passengers and 3,000 fewer screeners.
  • {11:11} Bennie Thompson: TSA should have access to all of the aviation security fees collected by the flying public to bolster security. Yet, the passage of the Budget Act of 2013, TSA is required to divert $13 billion collected in security fees toward the deficit reduction for the next 10 years. This year alone, 1.25 billion has been diverted.
  • {29:40} Michael McCaul: And finally, do you support—well, I can’t say—do you support the concept of expanding TSA’s pre-check program, which, I think, would move a lot of people in the long lines into the pre-check lines, which, I think, would solve many of these problems as well.Pete Neffenger: Absolutely. In fact, that’s one of my fundamental priorities is to dramatically expand the pre-check population and dramatically expand the capability to enroll people in pre-check.
  • {48:30} Pete Neffenger: Right now we do not seem to have trouble meeting our recruiting targets. We have a large pool of people that have been pre-vetted. That’s why we were able to rapidly begin to hire that 768 because we had a large pool of available applicants that had been screened that were looking for work. I still want to work on bringing more of that back in house than is currently done. As you know, we work through a private contractor to do our hiring and recruiting right now.
  • {49:53} Mike Rogers: I plan to introduce legislation to transform TSA from an HR nightmare to a security-focused organization by reforming and greatly expanding the Screening Partnership Program. Having worked on these issues for more than a decade, I’ve seen that TSA can do a mission when it’s given a clear, succinct mission. My bill is going to allow more airports to hire qualified private contractors, capable of managing day-to-day operations, and make TSA the driving force to oversee intelligence-based security strategies.
  • {1:41:30} Buddy Carter: You and I have spoken before about privatization, and as you know, in full disclosure, I’m really big on privatization. Atlanta and the bigger airports are indicating to us, or at least to me, that it’s beyond the scope of a bureaucracy to be able to do this, and I just don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling that you’re embracing privatization here. Congress passed the Screening Partnership Program. Tell me what you’re doing to implement that? We need to get to a point where you’re on the other side of the table; you’re asking the questions and overseeing this as opposed to being here answering the questions from us.Pete Neffenger: We’ve made a lot of changes to streamline that process. I was concerned that it takes a long time because it has to go out on bid, it has to go out on contract and the like. I have said repeatedly that the law allows for this. I will work with any airport that’s interested. In fact, I have directed airports like Atlanta to go out and talk to San Francisco because that’s the only large category x airport that has a contracted screening force, and we’ll continue to work with them. I think that there are things that we can do. We are somewhat hampered by the way the federal acquisition rules work. Remember, that’s a workforce that’s contracted to the Federal Government, not through the— Buddy Carter: Hold on. I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I want to know. You say you’re hampered. I want to know how I can help you to become unhampered, if that’s a word. Pete Neffenger: Well, as I said, we follow the contracting rules under the Federal Government contracting requirements. It’s a contract to the Federal Government, so I want to make sure that it’s fair and is open competition and you have to give people the opportunity to participate in that. We’ll work with anybody who wants to do that. Buddy Carter: Well, understand that I want to work with you so that we can streamline that process. I still don’t get the feeling that you’re embracing it, and I want to know what you’re doing to encourage it, to the privatization of it. Pete Neffenger: Well, again, it’s up to the airport to determine whether they want to do it. We advertise its availability, we make available information about it. There’s a screening private partnership office that manages that.

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