By: Steve Whitworth
U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello wants to help make the skies friendlier – and safer – for the nation’s fliers.
The Belleville Democrat has played a big role in that effort through his chairmanship of the U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee, a part of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Costello has served as chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee in the 110th Congress that currently is drawing to a close, and he said in an interview last week that he hopes to continue that role in the upcoming 111th Congress.
“We will reorganize the committees sometime in January, after the new members (of Congress) are sworn in Jan. 3,” he said. “The only action we have taken so far is we have elected the chairmen of the full committees. The subcommittee chairs will be elected when we reorganize.”
Costello said he again would seek the chairmanship of the Aviation Subcommittee, and “I totally expect my colleagues will re-elect me.”
The Aviation Subcommittee has jurisdiction over all aspects of civil aviation, including safety, infrastructure, labor and international issues. This jurisdiction covers all Federal Aviation Administration programs, except for research activities, which are within the jurisdiction of the House Committee on Science, of which Costello also is a senior member. The Aviation Subcommittee also shares jurisdiction over the National Transportation Safety Board.
In the past year, Costello has chaired hearings in the Aviation Subcommittee on such legislation as the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace Act (HANG UP), House Resolution 5788, which would ban the in-flight use of cell phones on planes; the Aviation Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, H.R. 6493, which addressed issues raised by FAA whistleblowers; and the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007, H.R. 2881.
The subcommittee also has held hearings on fatigue and low morale among the nation’s air traffic controllers, the merger between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines, and consumer aviation issues.
The latter issue is among his highest priorities, the 10-term congressman said.
“I strongly support a consumer protection provision within the FAA reauthorization bill that will give consumers unprecedented protections,” he said. “It would force airlines to make sure anytime there is a delay and passengers are held on a plane, that they are provided sanitary conditions, food, water, and that they make sure they are able to disembark as soon as possible.”
Costello said the provision also would require the FAA to establish a toll-free 800 telephone number to take consumer complaints. It also includes several penalties for airlines that violate consumer protection provisions.
“It’s similar to a passenger bill of rights,” he said. “It’s long overdue.
“The airlines oppose it, because they believe they can regulate themselves. I don’t believe they can. They have been given opportunity after opportunity to comply. It’s time to put it in the law.”
The FAA Reauthorization Act passed by a wide margin in the House but never got called up for a vote in the U.S. Senate, Costello explained.
“But with the new (Democratic) majority in the Senate, I expect it will have a more friendly administration (of incoming President Barack Obama) and Senate to deal with,” he said.
Costello said he hoped next year’s version of the legislation would include the HANG UP provisions on cell phone usage, the passenger bill of rights and other safety provisions.