TOPIC: Federal Aviation Administration

Airplane!: The Merger

The Obama administration has brought antitrust regulation back from the dead.  What does that mean for Chicago-based United Airlines’ purchase of Continental Airlines? (more…)

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Partial Funding For Two New Runways

The federal Dept. of Transportation has made the “largest financial commitment ever” to one airport project at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, reports the Chicago Tribune’s Monique Garcia. And it’s still not nearly enough money to complete the latest phase in O’Hare expansion. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, a former Illinois Congressman, announced a $410 million award yesterday for the city of Chicago to build two new O’Hare runways. But the cost of the runway project is $3.2 billion. The city tentatively plans to borrow about $1.8 billion toward completing the runways. (more…)

Why Government Needs Strong Independent Reporting

A great example of the connection between solid reporting and improvements in government can be found in the Washington Post‘s initial reporting on the alleged effort by Umar Abdulmutallab to incinerate himself aboard AA 253 in an attempt to kill hundreds, if not thousands, of people.  Three top Post reporters — Dan Eggen, Karen DeYoung, and Spencer Hsu — look at how Abdulmutallab got on the plane and begin tracking the policy and political implications for the Obama administration.  They report that the suspected terrorist was already on a federal watch list — but not on a no-fly list.  Joby Warrick and Ellen Nakashima manage in the space of 24 hours to get Abdulmutallab’s biography and compare his alleged crime to similar tactics used by Al Qaeda in the recent past.   Peter Slevin gets us inside the plane and talks with the man who first tackled the suspect and helped put out the fire.  But these reporters weren’t alone:  the print edition lists how many other reporters and researchers contributed to these stories — fifteen at least — including journalists in Yemen and London.

If the Post makes a profit this year, it won’t be because of stories like these.  And yet the Post‘s and other papers’ detailed and up-to-the minute reporting will have profound long term effects.  This kind of journalism drives the Sunday talk show narratives, shapes first comments from every congressperson who gets in front of a microphone, and forms initial public opinion.  More important, this kind of reporting shapes the trajectory of government actions from day one — and in an organization the size of the U.S. government, first steps really count. Officials from TSA, the FAA, and from FBI, CIA, and many other agencies will be influenced by reporting from the Post and other national news sources even as they work with information the public may never know.

Approaching the end of a tumultuous year, we can be thankful for the contribution to national security made by professional journalists who, consistently and accurately, help us understand the way world works — and help citizens judge how well our government reacts to threats like the one on American Airlines 253.

Ned Hodgman

CYBERATTACK!

The web sites of several government agencies including the Pentagon, the Dept. of Homeland Security, and the Federal Aviation Administration were "infected with rogue software," report Brian Krebs and Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post. The idea behind the cyberattack was to drive up traffic so it would make it harder for regular users to access the site. The Post has some more information (with a somewhat curious hole in their reporting):

A total of 26 Web sites were targeted, according to the researchers. In addition to sites run by government agencies, several commercial Web sites were also attacked, including those operated by Nasdaq, the New York Stock Exchange and The Washington Post. Representatives from washingtonpost.com could not be reached for comment.

Another security researcher familiar with the attack said there appear to be at least 60,000 infected computers besieging the targeted Web sites. The researcher said a large percentage of those compromised systems were located in South Korea.

What to do about cyber security was brought up in Obama’s visit to Russia. The fact the attack is allegedly coming from South Korea might bolster calls for some kind of international treaty to confront cyber scares.-MB

THE COMPANY PLANE IS REALLY THE ONLY WAY TO TRAVEL

The Wall Street Journal combed over Federal Aviation Administration reports and found that fourteen bailed out companies have retained use of private, corporate jets with the jets often being used for vacations in resort places like Aspen, Colorado and Vero Beach, Florida. Jesse Drucker and Mark Maremont report that bailed out companies who continued to use their corporate jets include Citigroup, recipient of $55 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program money, and Bank of America, recipient of $52 billion in bailout cash.

My favorite use of private jets, though, comes from the smaller Regions Financial Bank of Birmingham and PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh. These banks require their executives to use the company plane for all personal and business travel. Obviously the business of ruining the economy and taking a vacation afterwards shouldn’t be subject to the whims of commercial travel.-MB

FAA TO AMERICAN AIRLINES: GIVE US $7 MILLION

The House Transportation Committee accused the Federal Aviation Administration this spring of being too cozy with industry. But FAA seems in a fighting mood when it comes to assessing fines. The Washington Post’s Joan Lowy reports that the aviation agency has fined American Airlines $7.1 million for flying a mid-sized airliner after they knew about problems in the autopilot system. American says the fine is excessive and will contest it.

It’s the second biggest fine in the agency’s history. The biggest is when the FAA docked Southwest earlier this year $10.2 million for also knowingly flying unrepaired aircraft. The final terms of that penalty is still being negotiated. Time will tell whether FAA’s regulation through big fines scares airlines straight or is (sorry) a flight of fancy.-MB

WSJ ASSAILS FAA

The Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor and Christopher Conkey show little mercy to the Federal Aviation Administration in a A1 piece blasting the aviation agency’s bureaucratic failures. FAA hasn’t forced the airline industry to make a safer refueling tanker- 12 years after a tanker explosion killed 230 people on TWA Flight 800.  FAA also hasn’t modernized its air traffic control system. It hasn’t instituted the technology needed to prevent colliding aircraft. And FAA hasn’t tackled pilot fatigue.

Overall, it’s a very good piece of preventive journalism, even looking at the agency’s entire history. But it seems that the fact plane-related fatalities keep going down needs to be mentioned higher. There are certainly reasons to be worried about whether the FAA is doing their job. But if you look at the most important quantitative measure, the agency is actually doing well.-MB

WHAT’S THE REAL STORY HERE?

The Wall Street Journal’s headline this morning “Special Counsel Has Hands Full With FAA” sets off alarm bells that reporter Christopher Conkey fails to quiet.

Conkey plays it straight, explaining the independent Office of Special Counsel’s ambitious investigation into 32 different whistleblower complaints filed by Federal Aviation Administration employees.

What he doesn’t do, however, is point out that the Office of Special Counsel itself is under investigation. In fact, the government watchdog is partly being investigated for saying it’s conducting sweeping probes on matters like Justice Dept. selective prosecutions, when, really, it’s doing nothing at all.

Who’s to say whether this is the case with the FAA inquiry. We can say that this is a decidedly more pro-Special Counsel story than the one two months ago about the FBI raiding their office. -MB

AVIATION AGENCY WAKES UP TO PILOT FATIGUE

How do airline pilots stay alert during red-eye flights? Well, unfortunately they sometimes don’t, as indicated by several recent planes veering, and even crashing, due to pilot fatigue.

The New York Times’ Matthew Wald reports that the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Transportation Safety Board, a purely advisory agency, is looking at what can be done about pilots who fly planes without having slept in the last 15-20 hours. The issue has been visited before: in 1995 the FAA proposed a series of rules about pilot flight times but never instituted them.

With FAA facing all types of scrutiny, now might be a good time to tackle an obvious, but sometimes disastrous, problem.

– Matt Blake

FAA SCANNING THE RUNWAYS

The Federal Aviation Administration is testing four new methods for finding foreign objects on airplane runways, Matthew Wald of the New York Times reports.  Debris and cast-off airplane parts can get sucked into jet engines during takeoff and landing, causing structural damage or even explosions, such as the explosion that obliterated an Air France Concorde jet in 2000, killing 109 people.  The proposed technologies are from companies in England, Israel, San Diego, CA and Singapore.  Read Wald here.  EH