Monthly Archives: September 2014

FINES UPDATE

The below additional fines have recently been issued by DOT and FAA:

Air Methods Corporation – $428,000

The FAA has proposed a $428,000 fine against Air Methods Corporation for allegedly operating two helicopters that were not in compliance with Federal Aviation regulations.  The FAA alleges Air Methods, an air ambulance operator, violated its FAA-approved operations specifications by flying two helicopters without performing required inspections of their Night Vision Imaging System Compatible Lighting Filtration (NVIS) installations.  Air Methods allegedly operated both aircraft on more than 900 combined flights in 2011 when the inspections were overdue.  Air Methods has 30 days to respond to the agency.

Air Evac EMS Inc. – $110,000

On July 31, 2013 the proposed a $110,000 civil penalty against Air Evac EMS Inc., of West Plains, Mo., for operating a Bell BHT 206 helicopter that was not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.  Allegedly, a company mechanic installed a chin bubble window on the aircraft without following the manufacturer’s instructions, and then failed to document the installation in the aircraft’s maintenance logbook.  Following the repair, Air Evac returned the aircraft to service and flew it on eight passenger-carrying flights.  The chin bubble window then fell off while the aircraft was flying, resulting in a precautionary landing.

Voyageur Travel LLC, formerly d/b/a LDS Travel and Meridian Trips LLC,  and Brian Mickelsen – $20,000

DOT on August 14, 2014 fined Voyager Travel LLC, formerly d/b/a LDS Travel and Meridian Trips LLC and Brian Mickelsen, the owner and former member of the LLC, in his personal capacity, $20,000 for violating the Department’s advertising requirements.  This is a unique and somewhat unusual case because the company’s owner was fined in his personal capacity.  An investigation by the Department’s Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings revealed that prior to January 26, 2012, Voyager Travel advertised air tour packages that failed to include all fuel surcharges in the prices advertised, failed to state that the prices were subject to post purchase price increases, and failed to provide appropriate notice of the existence, nature, and amount of other charges and additional taxes and government-imposed fees that were then permitted to be stated separately from the base fare.

As part of the settlement agreement, Mr. Mickelsen also agreed to cease and desist from engaging in air transportation operations as an owner, director, or member of a LLC, ticket agent, air carrier or foreign air carrier, or agent of either, for ten years in order to avoid potential litigation.

MetJet, Inc.

On August 8, 2014, DOT issued a consent order and instructions to cease and desist to MetJet, Inc. (MetJet) and Michael Heisman, the former president and CEO of MetJet) for violating DOT’s public charter regulations.  Specifically, an investigation by the Department determined that MetJet and Heisman failed to properly maintain an escrow account and did not timely process consumer refunds in violation of 14 C.F.R. Part 380, which requires that charter participants’ funds be deposited into an escrow account at a depository bank that will maintain a separate account for each charter group.  While no fine was issued, the order directs the Respondents to cease and desist from future similar violations and directs Mr. Heisman to cease and desist for a period of five years from the date of this order from being involved in public charter operations.

NEW YORK UAS TEST SITE OPERATIONAL

The FAA on August 7, 2014 announced that the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test site in Rome N.Y. had received operational status.  This is the fifth of six test sites to obtain FAA approval for operations.

In addition to providing information for integrating UAS into the national airspace system (NAS), the research at this site with focus on agricultural concerns to the benefit farmers.  This will include studies on new ways to evaluate agricultural fields using different types of sensors, including visual, thermal and multispectral equipment.  It will also enhance present methods for monitoring crops.  The research team in New York also plans to develop test and evaluation processes and conduct research to avoid collisions with other manned and unmanned aircraft.

According to FAA Administrator Huerta said “The data the New York team plans to acquire and share will help the FAA in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested Northeast airspace.”

NTSB TRAINING OFFERED FOR DISASTER RESPONSE

The NTSB Transportation Disaster Response Course (TDA-301) is scheduled for September 23-25, 2014 at the NTSB Training Center in Ashburn, VA.  TDA-301 is a basic family assistance course designed for commercial transportation officials, representatives of federal agencies, staff of non-governmental relief organizations and emergency managers, and is instrumental in understanding how any organization involved in the accident response can most effectively support the family assistance efforts.  During the course, NTSB Transportation Disaster Assistance specialists, clinicians and other professionals will present a variety of disaster response and family assistance topics.  If you have any interest in attending this course, please contact us.

FAA PROPOSES HAZMAT PENALTIES AGAINST THREE COMPANIES

The FAA recently proposed civil penalties ranging from $63,000 to $91,000 against three companies for violating the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).  In each case, the FAA alleged the company failed to declare the hazardous materials being transported and failed to properly class, describe, package, mark, and label the shipments in proper condition for shipment.  The FAA further alleged each of the companies failed to ensure its employees had received the required training for shipping hazardous materials, and did not provide emergency response information with the packages.

The cases include the following:

  • $91,000 penalty against Kuehne & Nagel, Inc., of Jersey City, NJ for offering a cardboard box containing one 3.78 liter can of Carboline Part A paint and one can containing a liter of Carboline Urethane Converter paint to FedEx for shipment by air.  Under the HMR, paint is considered a hazardous material.
  • $78,000 against Pantropic Power, Inc., of Miami, FL for shipping      11 12-ounce cans of aerosol paint on a FedEx aircraft from Miami to Puerto Rico.  Workers at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan discovered the package emitting an odor, and found a can had burst and leaked through its packaging.  Aerosols are considered to be hazardous flammable gas.
  • $63,000 against Superior International Industries of Carrollton,      GA for offering an unmarked box containing two, 12-ounce cans of Cardinal Acrylic Aerosol Enamel spray paint to FedEx for shipment by air.  Under the HMR spray paint is considered a flammable aerosol.  The contents of the shipment were discovered after one of the cans leaked yellow paint in transit.

FAA SCALES BACK REPAIR STATION RULE

In an attempt to address industry concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has scaled back its latest revamp of the repair station regulations by eliminating a proposed new ratings system and several other significant changes that were strongly opposed by industry groups after the Administration’s release of a May 2012 notice of proposed rulemaking on the subject.

In addition to the new ratings system, which FAA intended to align with technological shifts since its last update, the Administration has also decided to drop proposals that would have required both supervisors and inspection personnel to speak English and that supervisors be present to oversee work being done by their staffs.  The FAA also removed a proposed requirement that would have mandated that repair stations have the tooling and equipment needed to earn certifications or rating approvals.  In addition, the new rule proposes to amend provisions on records falsification and the ability for FAA to weigh an applicant’s enforcement history when it considers a new certificate application.

It is likely that a follow-up draft regulation that addresses key outstanding issues, like those mentioned above, will be published at some future date.  We will continue to keep you appraised of new developments.

DOT EXTENDS COMMENT PERIOD FOR CONSUMER RULE 3

On July 31, 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed to extend the comment period for its latest rulemaking on transparency of airline ancillary fees and other consumer protection issues.  The new comment deadline is September 22, 2014.

The rule proposes, among other things, to: (1) require carriers to disseminate certain ancillary service fee information to ticket agents; (2) require carriers to modify their websites to display (as specific charges) certain basic ancillary service fees; (3) modify the Department’s post-purchase price increase rule with respect to ancillary fees; and (4) amend the tarmac delay rule to clarify that the Department may impose penalties for tarmac delay violations on a per passenger basis (up to $27,500 per passenger).

DOT ISSUES FINAL ORDER APPROVING IATA RESOLUTION 787

On August 6, 2014, DOT issued a final order (Order 2014-8-1) approving IATA Resolution 787, subject to specific conditions.  This order follows the Department’s tentative grant of  approval issued May 21, 2014.

As background, Resolution 787 establishes a process to develop a technical standard for data exchange within the air transportation market place.  This process uses Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is a markup language that provides rules for encoding data in human-readable and machine-readable format.  Resolution 787 established certain goals associated with the use of this data standard, including the capability to provide personalized airline ticket pricing to consumers.  These goals are known as New Distribution Capability (NDC).

After reviewing more than 40 comments received in response to its tentative grant of approval, DOT ultimately adopted Resolution 787, but limited its approval to the creation of an XML communications standard.  DOT also stated that any future agreement among IATA members regarding business models for distributing air transportation shall not be implemented without compliance with the applicable government approval or notification process.

SENATE COMMERCE CHAIR OPENS PROBE INTO AIRLINE PASSENGER FEES AND CONSUMER DATA PRIVACY POLICIES

On August 18, 2014 Senator John D. Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, announced that he plans to seek information from the top ten revenue generating U.S. passenger airlines regarding their disclosure policies on certain ancillary fees.  The airlines at issue are United, Delta, American, Southwest, US Airways, JetBlue, Alaska, Hawaiian, Spirit, and SkyWest.  The Senator’s inquiry also asks for information on the airlines’ internal policies for protecting consumer information that is collected during the ticket purchase process.

In the past several years, a trend has emerged where airlines increasingly charge fees for “optional” services, such as checked and carry-on luggage, seat selection, and priority boarding.  Fees of this nature are separate from the base fare and have resulted in significant revenue for airlines.  The Senator’s inquiry tracks concerns by consumer advocate groups that in some cases, optional fees are not sufficiently disclosed to consumers shopping for flights, thus preventing consumers from making a true price comparison.

In a letter to the aforementioned carriers, Chairman Rockefeller requested the following information: (1) the role that ancillary fees play in each carrier’s business model, and how that role has changed over the past decade, if at all; (2) each carrier’s total revenues for 2012, 2013, and 2014 to date, and also for the revenues collected for certain types of fees such as change fees, wi-fi passes, first and second checked bags, and trip insurance; (3) for fees that are sometimes disclosed in a range, such as preferred seat or flight change/cancellation fees, a list of each specific price that may be offered within the range and the frequency each specific price is charged; (4) the difference in the price of many ancillary fees (2009 prices compared with current prices); and (5) whether carriers obtain personal information from consumers when they shop for airfares or from other sources.

The Committee is also interested in raising awareness among consumers about the importance of protecting personal information they provide online because no federal privacy laws currently exist for the collection, use, and disclosure of consumer travel information.

UPDATE ON NORWEGIAN AIR INTERNATIONAL APPLICATION

On July 14, 2014, representatives from the U.S. Departments of State and Transportation met with European Commission (EC) officials to discuss the EC’s views on the meaning and applicability of Article 17 bis so that DOT could take those views into consideration during its review of the NAI application.

It is the opinion of the EC that Article 17 bis provides no legal basis for a party to unilaterally deny an application under Article 4 of the Agreement.  If a party has a concern about Article 17 bis, it should be brought to the Joint Committee.  Given this, it is the EC’s position that Article 17 bis of the Agreement cannot be used by one party as a mechanism to refuse to grant operating authorization under Article 4 of the Agreement to an airline of the other Party.

This meeting sparked many new filings in the docket, which are summarized below by issue.

Issue:  Consideration of Article 17 bis in implementation of Air Transport Agreement

In favor of the application’s approval, Delegation Chairmen John Byerly and Daniel Calleja noted that the EC’s position is consistent with the parties’ intentions when the U.S.-EU Open Skies Agreement was being negotiated.  Federal Express agrees with the EC’s view that “Article 17 bis itself does not formulate a legal rule that can be applied unilaterally by one party”.

On the other hand, the Allied Pilots Association commented that Article 17 bis was formulated by EU and U.S. negotiators, in part to address Labor Representatives’ concern that carriers might seek to evade social laws and undermine labor standards by engaging in venue-shopping.  The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) noted that no definitive language exists in Article 17 to define the article’s consideration as anything other than guidance for a decision of fitness by a sole party to the agreement.

Issue:  Public Interest

Numerous applicants including Air France, Austrian Airlines, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and SAS, urged the Department to deny NAI’s application because approval would be not be consistent with the public interest.  U.S. carriers such as Delta Airlines, United Air Lines, and American Airlines commented that the basic objectives of Article 17 bis would be undermined if DOT approves NAI’s application, as it would allow NAI to enter the U.S.-EU market by establishing “a de facto flag of convenience” designed to go around Norway’s labor protection laws.

Issue:  Promotes U.S. Economy

Washington Airports Task Force, the American Society of Travel Agents, Travel United, the U.S. Travel Association, the Port of Oakland and the Broward County Aviation Department all filed in support of NAI’s application, arguing that approval will benefit growth of the transatlantic market, provide additional choices to the traveling public, and bolster the U.S. economy by creating jobs in the travel industry and through increased airport traffic. 

Issue:  Possible retaliation and trade war

NAI filed a comment asserting the opponents of its application have an anti-Open Skies agenda.  NAI believes if this “protectionist position” is followed, the Department will invite an unnecessary, potentially grave dispute with the European Union and Ireland.