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Bay Area House members laud FAA noise plan

Three Bay Area House members are praising the Federal Aviation Administration for launching an initiative to address concerns about noise from air traffic above San Francsico, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, released the FAA’s action plan to the public.

“My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly to engage the FAA’s leadership to take concrete steps to mitigate and address the noise from aircraft in our respective congressional districts,” Eshoo said in a news release. “As a result of our collaboration, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and FAA Regional Director Glen Martin met with local elected officials, community groups and individuals from our congressional districts to discuss the impacts of NextGen and additional issues prior to its implementation, including Surf Air at the San Carlos Airport.

“I welcome this important first step the FAA has developed. The FAA leadership will follow up with community meetings, coordinated through our offices, to explain in detail the FAA’s plan to address the noise problems being experienced in our region.”

Speier said her constituents long have been affected by noise from San Francisco International Airport and more recently from the San Carlos and Half Moon Bay airports. The FAA’s initiative “is a compilation of the ideas that were offered by the public regarding SFO at the FAA’s recent meetings in our three congressional districts, as well as requests made by the SFO Airport Community Roundtable. Some of these ideas may be deemed workable by the FAA and some may not.

“However, having previously been resistant to taking community suggestions, the FAA, for the first time in many years, has committed to studying ideas submitted by the affected communities,” Speier said. “I am gratified that the FAA is rolling up its sleeves to come up with solutions. The health of those who live under constant bombardment of airplane noise is being seriously compromised and the FAA has a responsibility to take action to address it.”

Farr said the action plan “is evidence the FAA is willing to consider the changes proposed by the community. For months, the commercial aircraft noise in Santa Cruz and the surrounding area has been terrible. From the beginning, I have told the FAA that they created this mess so it is up to them to fix it.”

“This is only a first step but it is a good one,” he said. “It shows everyone is committed to developing some real solutions. I hope the FAA will continue to listen to the communities it serves and work with them to solve any problems that arise from the switch to the NextGen flight plan.”

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Anna Eshoo wants to hush aircraft noise

Rep. Anna Eshoo just wants a little peace and quiet.

Four years after her Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act – requiring broadcast, cable, satellite and other video providers to keep the volume of commercials at a level consistent with the rest of their programming – was signed into law, Eshoo has now joined the “Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus.”

As a founding member of the recently created caucus, Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, hopes to raise awareness on the issue of aircraft noise and work to find meaningful solutions to the problem.

“Airports are epicenters of economic growth, but the noise from aircraft can make them pesky neighbors for many residents who live near them, including many of my constituents,” Eshoo said in a news release. “The creation of the Quiet Skies Caucus provides a forum to advance solutions that abate aircraft noise in our communities. I look forward to working with members of the caucus to address the concerns of residents who are impacted by aircraft noise.”

Eshoo’s 18th Congressional District includes Moffett Federal Airfield and gets a lot of flyover traffic headed to and from San Francisco International Airport and Mineta San Jose International Airport. She and 25 other members of Congress voiced disappointment last month with the Federal Aviation Administration’s handling of aircraft noise and failure to update a decades-old noise limit.

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DiFi wants to ban cell-phone calls on planes

Even as the Federal Communications Commission considered a possible rule change today to allow cell phone conversations on commercial airline flights, one of California’s Senators helped introduce a bipartisan bill to prohibit it.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act.

“Flying on a commercial airline — in a confined space, often for many hours — is a unique travel experience that is, candidly, not conducive to numerous passengers talking on cellphones,” Feinstein said. “This bill recognizes the use of cellphones to make calls during flights can be disruptive and irritating to other passengers and would prevent such communications during domestic flights. The bill, however, would not affect the ability to communicate via text and email during a flight.”

Alexander spoke more plainly (planely?), saying the bill “is about avoiding something nobody wants: nearly 2 million passengers a day, hurtling through space, trapped in 17-inch-wide seats, yapping their innermost thoughts.”

Perhaps air passengers who still want their daily dose of yapping can watch C-SPAN.

As Feinstein said, the bill would prohibit voice communications through cell phones but not texting or other electronic communications, should the FCC approve them. It would also continue to allow use of personal electronic devices such as Kindles and iPads during flight, which the Federal Aviation Administration recently approved.

The bill applies only to commercial airlines, not private charter flights or foreign carriers unless the latter is flying between U.S. airports, and it exempts federal air marshals and flight crews for official business.

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House OKs Speier’s plan for FAA low-speed study

The House today agreed by voice vote to pass an amendment by Rep. Jackie Speier that would requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to study whether existing commercial aircraft should be required to install low-airspeed voice warning systems.

PLANE CRASH AT SFOThe amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act is in response to the Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed on its final approach to San Francisco International Airport on July 6. Initial reports found low airspeed was a crucial factor in this crash.

The FAA will have one year to complete this study and make a determination if both new aircraft and existing aircraft should be required to incorporate a verbal warning system.

“Pilots make life-or-death decisions in a matter of seconds,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “It is vital that planes have alerts that are instantly recognizable, clear, and unambiguous. After numerous incidents and nearly a decade of concerns, the FAA continues to drag its feet on the question of low-airspeed warning systems.”

Jackie SpeierSpeier said low airspeed has been an air-safety concern for almost 20 years: The FAA’s Human Factors Team concluded in 1996 that flight crews needed better warnings that the aircraft was reaching low speeds. After the 2003 crash that killed U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended the FAA study whether to require installation of low-airspeed aural and visual alert systems. And after the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, N.Y., a recommendation was reissued in 2010 on installation of low-speed warning systems.

“We have plenty of evidence that giving pilots this tool could have – and will – save lives,” Speier said. “The FAA needs to translate this evidence into action.”

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LaHood, in Oakland, says FAA needs long-term bill

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood anticipates the Senate will pass and the President will sign a Federal Aviation Administration extension bill – which the House passed today – by week’s end, avoiding another worker furlough and construction freeze.

But this is the 22nd such extension in the past five years, LaHood said at a news conference next to the new control tower being built at Oakland International Airport. “These short-term extensions are not good for the best aviation system in the world.”

LaHood said this extension, which runs through January, should be enough time for Congress and the President to finish negotiating a long-term reauthorization, despite a few “big differences” remaining. One of those differences, he acknowledged while standing amid several dozen union members, is Republican insistence on a provision changing union election rules to make it harder for transportation workers to organize.

“There are always different issues with bills like this,” LaHood said today, adding he sees a growing feeling in Congress that a long-term reauthorization is necessary. “I’m optimistic that this can be resolved.”

Congress must move toward a long-term surface transportation bill as well, he said, and must take up President Obama’s American Jobs Act proposal in order to “put America back to work building America’s infrastructure.”

“There are no Republican or Democratic bridges, there are no Republican or Democratic roads,” he said. “We need to get back to that.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt also was at the Oakland news conference and recalled having attended the groundbreaking for the new control tower, one of many projects across the nation that were shut down for nearly two weeks this summer as Republicans refused to pass a clean FAA funding extension.

“It’s wonderful to see how much has been done,” Babbitt said. “We need to make certain that this job gets finished.”

The two-week shutdown led to the furloughs of thousands of FAA workers, the temporary layoffs of 70,000 construction workers and millions of dollars wasted nationwide, he said; in Oakland, workers on the tower were idled while scaffolding costing $6,000 a day remained unused. “We’re the model of the world, and this is not the way to do our business.”

Asked about high-speed rail, LaHood reiterated his support for such projects.

“I see a lot of support for high-speed rail in California,” he said, adding the state could be a model for the rest of the nation. “We are not going to be dissuaded by a little background noise of criticism. Whenever you do big things, a few people are going to be against it.”

And asked about Congress’ many stalemates on transportation and other issues, LaHood – who served 14 years as an Illinois congressman – said politics has eclipsed policy this year but he believes constituents’ frustrations voiced in recent weeks will spur lawmakers to cooperation and action. “I don’t think ‘no’ is enough anymore.”

Also at today’s news conference were Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin.

“I don’t know about you but I’m pretty tired of this backdrop,” Quan quipped, noting today’s was the third FAA-funding news conference at the site in recent months. Hopefully, she said, “the third time is the charm.”

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Congress’ inaction halts Oakland control tower

Contractors building the new air traffic control tower at Oakland International Airport have been told to stop work today on the $31 million project because Congress missed its Friday-night deadline to reauthorize routine funding for the Federal Aviation Administration.

artist's rendering of new Oakland control towerThe Oakland tower, for which ground was broken last October, is just one of dozens of stop-work orders issued all over the nation, worth a total of about $148.5 million.

“Construction workers across America will lose their jobs and local communities will be hurt the longer this goes on. Congress needs to pass an FAA bill to prevent further economic damage,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release issued this morning. “This is no way to run the best aviation system in the world.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the longer Congress waits, the more work will grind to a halt. “Work is stopping on construction and planning projects, NextGen system testing, and airport certification. The list goes on and on and this is just the beginning.”

As the Washington Post reported, the funding extension would have been the 21st since the FAA’s long-term funding authorization expired in 2007, but House Republicans added provisions to their extension bill that the Senate would not accept.

House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., said he included the provision to which Democrats objected due to his frustration over the pace of negotiations to reach agreement on long-term FAA funding plans passed by the House and Senate this year. It cut about $16.5 million in federal subsidies for air service to several small airports in rural areas.

The Senate refused this because these stop-gap extensions normally are bare-bones legislation to simply extend funding at current levels while Congress irons out differences over a longer term.

Construction workers, engineers and planners were told to stay home today after the FAA lost its Congressional authorization to pay a variety of airport construction, rehabilitation and modernization projects. Nearly 4,000 FAA personnel, many needed to oversee various aspects of these projects, were furloughed on Saturday. The delays could significantly increase the projects’ final costs, officials say.

Other major projects halted today are at Las Vegas’ MccCarran International Airport; Palm Springs International Airport; Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) International Airport; Battle Creek (Mich.) International Airport; Gulfport-Biloxi (Miss.) International Airport; and New York City’s LaGuardia Airport. The FAA also halted $370 million in contracts with Jacobs Engineering of Pasadena, which is under contract to do all the architectural, design, engineering and planning services for existing and future air traffic facilities.

The FAA had been prepared to contracts for new air traffic control towers in Cleveland and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but now is no longer authorized to access the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.

Besides building major aviation facilities such as control towers, the FAA is a main funding source for other airport projects through the Airport Improvement Program, which can’t run without congressional reauthorization; that leaves the agency unable to get roughly $2.5 billion out the door for airport projects in all 50 states, meaning delayed or lost jobs.

Nearly 4,000 FAA employees in 35 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been furloughed and forced to go without pay; California is among the eight-hardest hit states. This includes engineers, scientists, research analysts, administrative assistants, computer specialists, program managers and analysts, environmental protection specialists, and community planners. Public safety is not being affected, the agency insists.