Monthly Archives: March 2015

REMINDER – SUBSCRIBE TO ECKERT SEAMANS AVIATION BLOG

For those readers who have not yet subscribed, Eckert Seamans publishes an Aviation Blog, which offers information on developments in the U.S. aviation/regulatory area.  Posts provide tactical and timely updates related to emerging legislation, regulations, cases, policies and trends, with a focus on relevant business opportunities and risks.

The substantive information on the constantly evolving aviation marketplace is navigated by the attorneys of Eckert Seamans’ Aviation department, which serve the full range of participants in the airline and airport sector.

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If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

SAVE THE DATE: NTSB TDA AIR CARRIER INDUSTRY DISASTER RESPONSE AND FAMILY ASSISTANCE MEETING

The National Transportation Safety Board’s Transportation Disaster Assistance Division (NTSB TDA) will hold its 2015 NTSB TDA Air Carrier Industry Disaster Response and Family Assistance Meeting (Chicago Meeting) on May 21, 2015.  The meeting will be hosted by Southwest Airlines at their headquarters in Dallas, TX.  The meeting will be from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.  The address for the meeting:  Southwest Airlines, 2702 Love Field, Dallas, TX 75235.  Additional information will be released closer to the meeting date.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

ADDITIONAL FAA PROPOSED PENALTIES

In addition to those mentioned above, the FAA has proposed the following penalties: 

  • $1.6 million against Alaska Airlines, Inc. (two penalties) for allegedly operating aircraft that were not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.  The first penalty, for $900,000, involved the installation of systems to pulse external lights on 66 Boeing 737s without conducting proper ground and flight tests.  The second, for $700,000, involved an improper repair to a cracked engine thrust lever that obstructed the pilot’s access to the aircraft’s take-off/go-around button.
  • $147,375 against ExpressJet Airlines (two penalties) for allegedly violating drug and alcohol testing and aircraft maintenance regulations.  The first penalty, for $97,375, involved a failure by ExpressJet to conduct required drug tests and receive verified, negative results before hiring or transferring four people into safety-sensitive positions and failed to include one of these employees in its random drug and alcohol testing pool.  The second, for $50,000, alleged that ExpressJet failed to ensure that an Embraer EMB-145 regional jet underwent required testing and measurement of the aircraft surface in connection with the repainting of the jet.
  • $122,000 against Trans States Airlines, Inc. for allegedly operating an aircraft that was not in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

FAA PROPOSES HAZMAT PENALTIES AGAINST TWO COMPANIES

The FAA recently proposed civil penalties of $54,000 and $96,800 against two companies for allegedly violating the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR).  In both cases, the FAA alleged certain shipments were not accompanied by proper shipping papers to indicate the hazardous nature of their contents and were improperly marked, labeled or packed.

  • $96,800 against Rheem Manufacturing Co. for shipping three shipments containing a total of 19 metal cans of flammable paint by air.  The packages were not declared to contain hazardous materials and were not labeled, marked or packed in accordance with HMR requirements.  The company also failed to provide hazardous materials training for its employees.
  • $54,000 against Amazon.com for shipping a package containing a handgun cleaning kit by air.  The kit included a two ounce plastic container of flammable, corrosive liquid.  The shipment did not include shipping papers to indicate the nature or quantity of the hazardous material and Amazon did not provide required emergency response information.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

DOT FINES AIR EUROPA

In response to a third-party complaint alleging a violation of the Department’s full fare advertising rule, DOT recently fined Air Europa Lineas, S.A.U. (Air Europa) $100,000 on December 16, 2013.  The complaint alleged that Air Europa misrepresented carrier-imposed surcharges during the booking procedure and the Department agreed, finding that Air Europa committed unfair and deceptive trade practices by including a carrier-imposed fees within an amount described as “taxes” on its U.S. website.  In addition to the monetary penalty, Air Europa was directed to cease and desist from further violations.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

TSA REQUESTS PUBLIC COMMENT ON NEW INFORMATION COLLECTION REQUEST

Under the Secure Flight Program, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) collects information from carriers which aids in identifying passengers who may be a lower risk to transportation security and therefore may be eligible for expedited screening.  By law, TSA is required to collect public comment on its information collection proposal.  TSA is requesting comments in order to (1) Evaluate whether the proposed information collection is necessary for TSA to perform its functions; (2) Evaluate the accuracy of TSA’s estimate of the reporting burden; (3) Improve the quality, utility and clarity of the information to be collected; and (4) Minimize the burden of the information collection on those who respond using technological collection techniques.

Below is the information that TSA is collecting:

  • Secure Flight Passenger Data for passengers of covered domestic and international flights within, to, from, or over the continental United States.
  • Secure Flight Passenger Data for passengers of charter operators and lessors of aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight of over 12,500 pounds.
  • Certain identifying information for non-traveling individuals that U.S. airport operators or points of contact (POCs) seek in order to authorize entry into a sterile area (for example, to patronize a restaurant, to escort a minor or a passenger with disabilities or for another approved purpose).
  • Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening Systems (CAPPS) risk assessments. The assessments are generated by analyzing the underlying passenger and other prescreening data obtained by the aircraft operator when the passenger makes his or her reservation. TSA’s Secure Flight receives only the assessment generated from the applicable data and NOT the underlying data.
  • Frequent Flier Code Words generated by aircraft operator to validate that a passenger is a Frequent Flier program member who may be eligible for expedited screening.
  • Contact information or the data format/mechanism the aircraft operator uses to transmit Secure Flight Passenger Data.

Comments are due by April 6, 2015. Please let us know if you would like assistance in submitting a comment.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

 

TSA PRECHECK PROGRAM SOLICITS PROPOSALS AND UNDERGOES GAO AUDIT

In December 2014, TSA announced that it will be soliciting proposals from the private sector to increase enrollment in its PreCheck program. TSA is seeking proposals to enroll and pre-screen applicants. TSA is specifically interested in proposals that would include options to collect fingerprints or iris scans to validate identity, and to perform a criminal history records check. The solicitation was originally posted on December 22, 2014, but due to an error, the solicitation was removed on February 6, 2015 and will be reposted once the issue is corrected.

In addition, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an audit report in December 2014 evaluating how TSA has expanded expedited screening. In assessing whether a passenger is eligible for expedited screening, TSA currently looks at (1) whether passenger is included on an approved TSA PreCheck list of known travelers; (2) results from the automated risk assessments of all passengers; and (3) threat assessments of passengers conducted at airport checkpoints known as Managed Inclusion. GAO cited concerns that TSA’s use of Managed Inclusion (which uses different layers of security, including procedures that randomly select passengers for expedited screenings) had flaws and recommended that TSA take actions to strengthen the process by testing it and ensuring that it adheres to established evaluation design practices, among other things. In response to the report, several Congressmen cited concerns that Managed Inclusion was putting the aviation system at risk because behavioral indicators can often not be used to identify persons who may pose a threat to aviation security. TSA concurred with GAO’s recommendations.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

INTEREST GROUPS SEEK TO CAP CHANGE FEES IN FOREIGN AIR TRANSPORTATION AND BETTER REGULATE FUEL SURCHARGES

On February 11, 2015, FlyersRights.org, a nonprofit airline passenger organization, submitted a petition to DOT requesting that a $100 cap be placed on change fees for foreign air transportation.  International change fees have increased to as much as $750 in recent years.

Carriers generally opposed the petition, arguing that lower change fees will encourage consumers to “speculatively” purchase tickets far ahead of actual travel, and that high change fees are necessary due to the potential lost revenue associated with customers purchasing cheaper regular fares rather than high priced flexible or refundable fares.  Carriers further argue that change fees are meant to discourage itinerary changes after a purchase has been made.

FlyersRight.org notes that even if a passenger changes flights, the airline can resell the seat to another passenger and generate revenue from the original passenger on their new flight.  FlyersRights.org also noted that on average, a refundable ticket is 350% more expensive than a non-refundable ticket and purchasing refundable tickets at such a high cost is not an option for most customers.

A second initiative, targeted at the sizeable fuel surcharges charged by many airlines, was brought by the Business Travel Coalition (BTC).  BTC argues that the industry practice of billing consumers for fuel surcharges violates DOT’s 2012 guidance that such surcharges must be tied to the actual cost of fuel.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).

PRESIDENT’S 2016 BUDGET INCLUDES PROPOSED INCREASE IN PASSENGER FACILITY CHARGE

A proposal in President Obama’s 2016 budget would increase the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), which is used to help fund airport improvement projects.  PFCs have been capped at $4.50 since 2000 and generated $2.8 billion in 2013.  The President’s proposal would raise the maximum PFC to $8 per traveler per flight segment, which would result in and additional $2.3 billion in 2016 revenue.

Travel industry trade groups and airport operators support the proposed increase, arguing that airport improvements are needed and such improvements will boost the travel industry. To wit, Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) reported a backlog of $15.14 billion in airport improvement projects to date.

U.S. carriers oppose the increase, arguing it would discourage travelers from flying. Airlines for America said “…consumers are very price sensitive when it comes to air travel, an unnecessary tax increase will reduce demand.”  The trade group added that an increase in PFCs would set back job growth, have a negative impact on tourism because of decreased demand and possibly limit air service to small communities.

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr (esahr@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6622) or Drew Derco (dderco@eckertseamans.com, 202-659-6665).