Friday, July 16, 2010

What About Air Safety?


What About Air Safety?

Published: July 16, 2010

Last year's crash of a commuter plane near Buffalo, which killed 50 people, highlighted the need for more stringent pilot training and tougher rules about how long pilots can fly before they are required to rest.

Those reforms have been irresponsibly sidetracked by one of Capitol Hill's nastiest and most expensive lobbying fights over the unrelated issue of unionization rules at the rival delivery companies, FedEx and United Parcel Service.

The complex bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration would require more hours in training for commercial pilots and a closer watch on their flight schedules. The House and Senate have passed versions of the reauthorization with the sensible new safety rules. But the legislation has stalled as the two corporations and their hugely well-paid lobbyists battle over whether the unionization standards for U.P.S. package deliverers should also be applied to FedEx's ground workers.

The nation is fortunate that the standoff has now galvanized a less dollar-driven lobbying force - the families of the victims in last year's tragedy. They are buttonholing lawmakers with a question: What's happening with passenger safety?

The House's aviation bill, led by Representative James Oberstar, a Democrat of Minnesota and a union champion, would finally put the two companies on the same footing. Mr. Oberstar argues adamantly that a Republican Congress unfairly allowed FedEx special antiunion protections in 1996, and this needs to be corrected.

The Senate-passed measure has no such provision. And a filibuster is threatened to protect FedEx by Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, Republicans of Tennessee, where, of course, FedEx is based. Far more than parochial posturing is at stake in the bill, which also includes modernization of the air traffic control system.

Both sides remain unyielding on the union fight. We sympathize with Representative Oberstar's point and find the filibuster threat on behalf of FedEx shameless. Congress needs to rise above this to serve the one special interest most at stake: air passenger safety.

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