WASHINGTON – New airline safety regulations, including long-sought rules aimed at preventing exhausted pilots from flying, will be harder to issue if an industry-backed measure supported by House Republicans becomes law, federal aviation and safety officials are warning Congress.
A bill providing authority for Federal Aviation Administration programs that the House passed in March contains an amendment sponsored by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. It would change the way the FAA goes about making regulations, including requiring an analysis of the effect proposed rules may have on the economy, private markets, productivity, employment and competitiveness.
The FAA would also be required to write separate safety rules for different segments of the airline industry — passenger airlines, cargo carriers, charters and others — even though the agency's oft-stated goal is to have "one level of safety" across the aviation industry.
A bill passed by the Senate earlier this year doesn't contain a similar provision, setting up a showdown between the two chambers.
FAA officials have declined to comment publicly about the Shuster amendment. Privately, the agency has been sending lawmakers who inquire a statement that says it "enshrines in legislation a set of procedural hoops that could have the effect of slowing down rulemaking projects underway and in the future."
Also, the amendment's economic analysis requirements "are written in a way that could make it more difficult to quantify what we are required to analyze, which could impact the agency's ongoing effort to achieve one level of safety," according to a copy of the statement obtained by The Associated Press.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman said Shuster's amendment "would add complexity to the rulemaking process" and could halt several FAA efforts underway to craft new safety rules in response to the crash of a regional airliner near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people two years ago, including pilot fatigue regulations.
There have been 14 aviation accidents with 263 fatalities since 1993 in which fatigue was cited as the cause or a contributing factor, according to NTSB.
Shuster has denied the amendment would affect any rulemaking already in progress. But opponents said they can find nothing in the amendment's nine brief paragraphs that would prevent it from being applied to currently proposed regulations, as well as future ones.
"The congressman believes the amendment is clear enough on its face, that it has been drafted in a way that prevents retroactivity," said Shuster spokesman Jeff Urbanchuk. "If someone has a better way to clarify it, we're open to hearing from them."
Federal agencies, including the FAA, are already required to conduct an extensive analysis of proposed regulations to determine the cost to industry and how the costs will be justified by the benefits achieved. Often that means estimating how many lives will be saved and assigning them a dollar value.
The Shuster amendment would also require the FAA to "assess any adverse effects on the efficient functioning of the economy, private markets — including productivity, employment and competitiveness — together with a quantification of such costs."
Urbanchuk and officials for the passenger, cargo and nonscheduled airline industries said the amendment is merely an attempt to put into law the intent of an executive order issued by President Barack Obama in January. That order directs all federal agencies to make sure that regulations aren't duplicative, that the public has opportunity to voice their concerns, that the best available means be used to quantify cost and that, where possible, agencies consider ways to reduce the burden of regulations.
The presidential order makes no mention of assessing the impact of proposed regulations on the overall economy or private markets.
"I'm not sure that it's broader than the president's executive order," said Sharon Pinkerton, a senior vice president at the Air Transport Association. The economy and jobs "are exactly the kinds of issues he's been talking about."
Oakley Brooks, president and CEO of the National Air Carrier Association, said the FAA failed to take into account the cost to nonscheduled airlines when drafting the pilot fatigue regulations.
"If the Shuster amendment will help the agencies to do proper cost-benefit analysis for all parts of the industry, then we think that's a good idea," Brooks said. Nonscheduled airlines fly over 90 percent of U.S. troops and 40 percent of military cargo around the world.
But Kevin Kuwik, a spokesman for the families of people killed in the Buffalo air crash, said the amendment is a "sneak attack" on the fatigue regulations.
"It muddies up the process on the front end and, worse, on the back end it gives them a chance to challenge it in court," Kuwik said.
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