Saturday, April 12, 2008

You REALLY need to take that summer vacation NOW

Why? Before a shitload more planes get grounded, and airlines cut service even more to make up for the lost money.

First, at least one more airline whistleblower is going to work with the Federal Aviation Administration.

U.S. Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch said another FAA whistle-blower has approached his agency, and a second is also considering working with investigators. The complaints involve two and possibly three airlines, which Bloch declined to name. The agency, he said, has four or five active files “and are opening more now.” The complaints, he said, “run the gamut” from maintenance issues to “airworthiness” and safety. …

In his more than four years as special counsel, Bloch said his office has substantiated at least 10 whistle-blower complaints about the FAA.

And, with the FAA coming under increasing heat from both Congress and higher up within the Department of Transportation, it WILL crack down on airlines more; the American situation with its MD-80s this week will not be an anomaly.

How much heat? This much:
“They’re not overreacting,” Rep. Jim Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said. “They’re reacting and doing what they should be doing.” The mass groundings, he said, reflected the airlines’ failure to comply with FAA maintenance requirements.

Bloch, who testified before Oberstar’s committee, has become a leading critic of the FAA. The agency, he said, “is far and above the worst we’ve encountered in the federal government for its contempt for oversight, its willingness to retaliate against whistle-blowers ... and their willingness to cover up violations.” …

Calvin Scovel, inspector general for the Department of Transportation, which includes the FAA, said “fundamental breakdowns” in the FAA’s oversight of Southwest Airlines have raised “legitimate concerns about the FAA’s overall approach to safety oversight.”

And, that’s not all that’s coming down the pike.

Those “costs to make up” I referenced above? The American groundings this week will run the AA tens of millions of dollars, according to its (skating on thin ice?) CEO Gerald Arpey.

That’s not counting how this may play out with American’s reputation and loss of passengers. Nor is it factoring in if American’s stock price is going to stay in the less-than-$10 dump.

If you’re in Dallas or Chicago, where American has hubs and Southwest has quasi-hubs, you’re really screwed.

As for the “other airlines,” beyond what Bloch mentioned? The FAA has had four airlines in its gunsights. What the next two, after Southwest and American, might be, I don’t know.

As for the “how did we get to this point,” beyond Bloch’s comments about the FAA’s crappy regulatory attitude? Its inspectors’ union says the agency is shorthanded.
The head of the union that represents 11,000 aviation safety specialists in the FAA and Department of Defense said the FAA is “relying more and more on the airlines to regulate themselves” because of a shortage of personnel.

“It is time for the FAA to once again make safety its priority,” said Tom Brantley, national president of Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.

How’s the FAA going to pay for this? One answer would be new fees on the airlines. Or, to avoid them trying to figure out whether or not to pass that on to you and I the flying public, a variation would be to increase airport landing fees.

So, expect a higher ticket price, perhaps by this summer, beyond that due to fuel costs.

And, with crappier service, fewer flights, etc., expect to fly the unfriendly skies.

Living in Dallas, the site of the main hub for American and the No. 2 airport for Southwest, trust me, this will happen.