April 29, 2008
WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Legislation being considered by the Senate this week would put new requirements on the Federal Aviation Administration in an effort avoid the kind of oversight lapses that occurred with respect to Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV).
The bill, text of which was released by Senate committees Tuesday, would mandate a two-year cooling-off period for inspectors who leave the FAA to work for the airlines. Such inspectors would be prevented from representing the airline in contacts with FAA for two years.
The bill authorizes funding for FAA, including long-sought upgrades to air traffic control facilities, for four years. The Senate may complete work on the bill by the end of this week.
The FAA safety provisions were added in recent days, in the wake of a congressional investigation into lapses at FAA’s office that oversees Southwest Airlines, which led to a record $10 million fine on the airline. A nationwide audit launched by FAA after the Southwest incident revealed further safety gaps throughout the system.
The bill also incorporates a recommendation from the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to improve the FAA’s regime that allows airlines to voluntarily disclose violations in exchange for more leniency. Under the bill, such disclosures would have to be signed-off by more than one FAA inspector.
FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said the agency is supportive of both of those changes, and has already announced it plans to change those policies.
Picking up on another recommendation from the DOT’s IG, the bill would create a system for tracking when airlines are overdue for inspections under FAA safety directives.
Key senators broke a logjam on the FAA legislation last Friday when they agreed on changes to the funding mechanism for the aviation trust fund. Those changes, which would raise taxes on non-commercial grade jet fuel, are at the core of the legislation.
Senators also strengthened consumer rights’ provisions before unveiling the package Tuesday. The Senate Commerce Committee last year, as part of its FAA re- authorization bill, proposed requiring that airlines submit contingency plans to the Department of Transportation for providing food, water and clean restrooms to passengers during lengthy tarmac delays.
The latest change to the bill, tucked in by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., would give the Transportation Secretary the ability to approve or disapprove those plans and ask airlines to modify them.
-By Martin Vaughan, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9244; martin.vaughan@ dowjones.com
Source: CNN MONEY