After seven months of debate, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Future of Aviation Advisory Committee completed its assignment this week. DOT Secretary Raymond LaHood formed the group in May to provide “information, advice, and recommendations to the Secretary of Transportation on ensuring the competitiveness of the U.S. aviation industry and its capability to address the evolving transportation needs, challenges, and opportunities of the global economy.”
On Wednesday the FAAC voted on and adopted 23 recommendations and then presented them to LaHood. The complete list of proposals is available on the DOT’s site.
The committee was further divided into five subcommittees that addressed concerns focusing on Safety, Competition, Finance, Labor, and the Environment. As a representative of Consumers Union, I was the lone consumer advocate on the 19-member panel, and put forth suggestions to expand passenger protections and enhance airline safety.
Here is a brief summary of the results:
- Consumers Union asked Secretary LaHood to consider requiring the Federal Aviation Administration to eliminate the loophole that allows children under 2 to fly unsecured as lap children on U.S. commercial aircraft. After months of intense study and discussion, CU and other organizations recommended the Federal Aviation Administration heed the advice of the National Transportation Safety Board and others in requiring all passengers to be properly secured. This issue was addressed here last week.
- The FAAC also agreed on the need for greater transparency for consumers in key areas: airline pricing, including ancillary fees such as for baggage; the disclosure of flight operations, such as code-share and regional/commuter flights; the disclosure of airline contracts of carriage so consumers can gain easy access to their fundamental rights; and DOT reporting statistics.
- On the critical issue of airline maintenance outsourcing, the FAAC was unable to reach consensus on CU’s proposal for the need for greater FAA oversight of outsourced facilities, both inside and outside the U.S. However, CU joined with the Transport Workers Union and the Association of Flight Attendants in filing supplementary comments on this topic. Our concerns stem from a 2007 investigation into maintenance outsourcing that revealed dozens of front-line FAA inspectors were concerned about oversight issues.
The DOT is establishing timelines for implementing the adopted proposals, and Consumers Union will continue to report on this process. After reviewing the report, Secretary LaHood thanked the FAAC members and stated: “I guarantee you these recommendations will not sit on a shelf.”—William J. McGee