FAA Faces The Blue Tide

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Congress may already have started its holiday recess, but with a major changeover due to take place in January you can bet they're not idle in Washington, D.C. The Democrats are itching to take charge, and they plan to take a more active role in overseeing aviation safety and the FAA, according to James Carroll, a Washington reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal. U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Ky., who has just been appointed to the House Appropriations Committee, told Carroll, "If [the FAA is] not going to do what needs to be done through the regulatory process, we're going to have to pass some legislation to force them to do it." Chandler, whose district includes the Lexington (Ky.) Airport where a Comair CRJ-100 crashed in August, says the air traffic control system is woefully understaffed. He claims the agency has been "utterly not forthcoming" about its handling of staffing at Blue Grass Airport and at other facilities nationwide.

"The cost of one crash far outweighs what you will pay in total to bring air traffic control up to the appropriate numbers," he said. Chandler is not the only Democrat itching to take on the agency, says Carroll. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., a longtime FAA critic, said many of his colleagues are frustrated with the FAA. The aviation system is safe now, he said, but "there are not enough people on deck or in the pipeline to give us the assurance the United States can continue with the proud [safety] record it has amassed." The Courier-Journal published an in-depth report on air traffic control in its Sunday edition. The report, "Troubled towers: How safe are our skies?" is available online. It includes a database listing staffing levels at all FAA facilities.