Thursday, August 4, 2011

How Safe Is It When Airline Inspectors have to Pay Their Own Way?

Updated 4:45 p.m. edt

Congress has reached a partial deal that will allow Federal Aviation Administration inspectors and airport construction workers to get back back on the job, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid announced this afternoon.

"This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that," Reid said in a statement.

The FAA inspectors were furloughed two weeks ago when funding expired without the House and Senate reaching a deal on a bill extending their pay and funding airport construction projects. The impasse was over a House measure that did not fund rural airports.

As part of the deal, the Senate will accept a bill passed by the House that cut $16 million from the Transportation budget for subsidies to rural airports. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will authorize individual waivers to make up for the budget shortfall for rural airports.

"This is a tremendous victory for American workers everywhere. From construction workers to our FAA employees, they will have the security of knowing they are going to go back to work and get a paycheck - and that's what we've been fighting for. We have the best aviation system in the world and we intend to keep it that way," LaHood said in a statement.

Reid will move the bill through the Senate using a procedure called "unanimous consent," which will allow Congress to remain on its five-week vacation without having to return for an up or down vote.

end update

Not everyone is as confident as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that airline safety is not being compromised by furloughed aviation inspectors having to pay their own travel costs and other expenses out of pocket to do their jobs.

Some airline pilots fear the partial shutdown by Congress of the Federal Aviation Administration is putting undue pressure on the inspectors.

"When the FAA inspectors are paying their own bills, will they go far enough, do enough and stay on site long enough to answer all of the concerns?" said one longtime pilot who spoks on the condition that his name not be used.

"Safety costs money," he added.

If the matter is not resolved soon, rank and file union members will ask the pilots and other airlines unions to weigh-in and potentially take steps of their own.

LaHood insisted the inspectors who are fronting their own money to do their job "are dedicated federal employees who believe in their mission of safety."
"I can say without equivocation, safety will never be compromised. Flying is safe, and passenger schedules should not be compromised by this issue," LaHood said.

Congress failed to fund the FAA, forcing 4,000 FAA employees to be furloughed and costing paychecks for another 70,000 construction workers who had been working on $11 billion worth of airport projects.

The government believes it is losing $1 billion in uncollected taxes because of the do-nothing Congress.

Lawmakers blew out of Washington this week for their five-week vacations without resolving the FAA issue. President Obama has asked Congress to return in the next fews days to fix the problem.

"Congress needs to come back, resolve their differences, compromise, and put our friends and neighbors and colleagues back to work," LaHood said. "They should not leave 74,000 people hanging out there, without jobs, without a paycheck, until September."

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