WASHINGTON, D.C. – February 16, 2016 – (RealEstateRama) — Despite divisions on a controversial Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a senior member of the normally bipartisan House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and one of the “Big Four” transportation leaders who wrote the recently-enacted surface transportation bill, got her major priorities for the District of Columbia and the nation into the bill, which passed the committee last night.
“What D.C. residents will find most important in this FAA bill is what did not make the headlines: our provisions to increase control of airplane noise and the related issue of limiting the number of flights at Regan National Airport, banning the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices on planes, continued authorization of the Disadvantages Business Enterprise program to ensure equal treatment in the awarding of contracts, and our ongoing work on reforming the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s auditing and contracting regulations.”
Statutory Mandate to Control Airplane Noise
Norton got significant provisions to address outrageous airplane noise that has been plaguing communities in the District and nationwide as a result of new Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) flight paths. Norton’s provision requires the FAA to conduct a review of aircraft noise exposure and its effects on communities around airports, including a review of FAA’s community involvement practices for NextGen projects located in metroplexes. Until now, Norton has had to work with the FAA without a statutory mandate to get more community involvement in solving airplane noise issues at Reagan National Airport (DCA), which is part of a metroplex with Dulles International and Baltimore Washington International airports. Last year, she held a community airplane noise town hall with residents and officials from the FAA and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). Following that meeting, Norton got MWAA to convene an airplane noise working group that includes D.C. and Virginia residents and airline officials to make recommendations to the FAA on flight paths.
No New Planes at DCA; Flight Perimeter Stays Intact
Norton defeated attempts to add additional large planes and airplane noise at DCA to accommodate more flights outside the current 1,250 mile DCA perimeter. A Member withdrew his amendment to expand the perimeter for flights to his Corpus Christie, TX hometown after Norton and Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA) reached out to their committee colleagues to urge them to oppose expanding the perimeter, which would overburden an already crowded DCA. Norton said that with billions of taxpayer dollars already invested to expand Dulles, Members should not introduce self-serving amendments to increase long-haul flights into DCA for their personal convenience while the number of domestic passengers at Dulles has decreased over the past eight years.
Banning Use of Electronic Cigarettes and Vaping Devices on Airplanes
One of the few Democratic amendments to attract Republican support was Norton’s amendment prohibiting the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices on airplanes, which passed with bipartisan support. She prevailed in spite of a stunt by Representative Hunter Duncan (R-CA), who brought his vaporizer to the hearing and vaped smoke used to simulate smoking into the face of his fellow Republican, Representative Candice Miller (R-MI), who subsequently voted for the Norton amendment. Norton first introduced this provision as a standalone bill last October after the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a rule prohibiting passengers and crewmembers from carrying battery-powered portable electronic smoking devices in checked baggage, which did not ban the use of these vaping devices on airplanes. Norton does not object to vaping, but vaping nicotine or other vapor on an airplane that then circulates the vapor to others would be both a health risk and a nuisance in a closed space. She said that the 25-year-old ban against smoking on planes should apply to electronic cigarettes and vaping devices as well.
Continued Authorization of Equal Opportunity in Business Contracting
Norton got the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program, which provides equality in contract opportunities for businesses owned by minorities, women, and service-disabled veterans, to remain authorized in the bill. The bill also provides updated findings to support the constitutionality of the program.
In response to several U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Inspector General (IG) reports finding chronic problems with MWAA’s auditing policies and procedures, Norton has been pushing to get MWAA to adopt federal anti-nepotism rules and generally accepted federal auditing standards. Although Norton has gotten MWAA to adopt accepted auditing standards and anti-nepotism rules, her new FAA provision requires the DOT IG to conduct a study on MWAA’s progress in implementing the updated standards and to submit a report to Congress that includes the findings, conclusions, and recommendations for strengthening and improving MWAA’s Office of Audit.