Congressional Requests of the FAA to resolve essentially local Issues detracts from its Aviation Safety Mission

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The below two articles are prime examples of the political pressures with which the FAA must deal. Both demonstrate the staff’s difficulties of working in these nether lands.

The FAA is in a precarious location within the government. Not that it’s equidistant between the Capitol and the White House, but that it is a technical aviation safety organization which ultimately reports to both the Congress and the President. That’s a reality which the occupants of 800 Independence Ave. must be constantly aware and which the agency’s political bosses (the two above night time pictures) all too frequently forget.

Rep. Pittenger, a Congressman from Charlotte, NC, wrote a letter to the FAA asking that they resolve a dispute between the Charlotte City Council and the NC State Legislature. The City wants to continue its control over the airport which bears its name, while the State has enacted a law which would transfer control of the region’s powerful infrastructure to an independent commission. The State’s action includes within its justification that the past management of this facility has been less than tremendous. The letter inquires whether an airport can be owned by the city and controlled by the State, but does not ask the FAA to determine which option would better serve aviation.

The Congressman’s letter did not, nor did it need to, mention that the past Mayor is now the Secretary of Transportation. It is also well known that Mr. Foxx has recused himself from the decision and that the Associate Administrator for Airports was recently appointed to this political position by the Secretary of Transportation. Surprise, Mr. Angeles is not putting this North Carolina created problem at the top of his “to do” list. Perhaps instead of accusing the FAA of playing “hot potato”, Rep. Pittenger might look homeward for a solution. The FAA is not a convenient place to settle a nasty political problem.

The second article involves the O’Hare Modernization Plan . OMP was a highly contested Environmental Impact Study; the precise impact (that the airspace architecture could not handle the volume created by the new runways) was forecast and ignored. Illinois Democratic Representatives Quigley, Tammy Duckworth and Jan Schakowsky wrote to the Administrator to restart the Environmental Impact Statement.

Their letter states that the current noise levels are higher than the numbers which the FAA accepted in the EIS. There is, or should be, a public record which includes the hard numbers. However, the submission of even those scientifically objective decibel levels is not likely to stop a $10 billion project, which is heartily supported by the Mayor of Chicago. Didn’t he used to occupy an important office at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Again, the reopening of such battles are resolved at a higher level than your career public servants.

The FAA works hard to make its decisions on apolitical, engineering or other objective data; those criteria are the fabric of their Congressionally established safety mission. It does its best to divine the best solution in the EIS with its multi-dimensional decision matrix. Local control of an airport should be decided by the people who live there; anything imposed by Washington is not likely to last very long. Devoting time and attention to such local problems detracts from the FAA’s highest priority work.

ARTICLE: U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger to FAA: Quit the ‘hot potato’

ARTICLE: Illinois U.S. House Members Challenge O’Hare Runway Expansion’s Approval

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