Transportation News for June 12, 2015


POLITICO Morning Transportation for 6/12/2015

By JENNIFER SCHOLTES, with help from Heather Caygle

UNCLASSIFIED TSA VULNERABILITY SUMMARY TO COME: House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul tells MT that lawmakers have been promised an unclassified summary of that searing inspector general report on TSA’s failure to catch the vast majority of covert attempts to sneak fake bombs and weapons past airport checkpoints. And the IG’s office at DHS has confirmed that’s the case.
When we caught up with him on Thursday, the chairman had just received a fresh briefing on the TSA report down in the House’s SCIF (that ultra-locked-down cavern where lawmakers learn the government’s secrets). “An unclassified version will be coming out, and I’ve urged the IG to move that expeditiously,” he told us.

Waiting impatiently: McCaul said he expects the unclassified summary to take a couple of months. “But I’d prefer it to come out sooner, rather than later, so we can have a more open discussion about it. We’re going to have a hearing on it next week. … I’d like to see at least what we can declassify prior to that hearing.” But the chairman said he doesn’t think it’s smart to divulge the entire report. “There are some elements of it that I think would threaten the security of the American people, in terms of techniques — both technical aspects and operating procedures — at TSA.” He said it’s important, though, to talk publicly about solutions, including new screening technology and more bomb-sniffing canine teams.

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“In the back of the cab, I tipped the driver ahead of time. Get me there fast.”

** A message from Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America: America’s wine and spirits wholesalers serve as the key link in the hospitality industry, which is a major economic engine supported by a safe, modern and efficient transportation infrastructure system. Congress should continue to protect public safety by supporting programs to address impaired driving. **

STACKING TRUST FUND TALKS: With six workweeks left until the July 31 deadline, both chambers are finally ready to begin public talks about a long-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund. Following the House Ways and Means Committee’s announcement of a Wednesday hearing next week, the Senate Finance panel has slated its own for the next day, ominously titling it “Dead End, No Turn Around, Danger Ahead: Challenges to the Future of Highway Funding.” The witness lineup includes former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, an econ expert from CBO and a fellow from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“While many in Congress agree we should aim for long-term highway bill, the problem is often agreeing on how to pay for it,” Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch said in a written statement Thursday. “This hearing will allow committee members to examine funding options needed for a multi-year reauthorization that will put the program on sound fiscal footing.” The deets:

DOT DATA SHOWS GOOD NEWS FOR SPRING FLYERS: The nation’s largest airlines arrived on time in April more often than the same month last year or the previous month this year, DOT announced Thursday. And flight cancellations are down, too. Check out the department’s latest rundown on tarmac delays, mishandled baggage, chronically delayed flights and the causes of these holdups:

EPA RULES COME MORE EASILY FOR AIRLINES: Looking ahead to new EPA emissions regulations in the works, the prospect doesn’t seem nearly as daunting for the airline industry as the mandates have for other sectors. Pro’s Alex Guillén and Kathryn A. Wolfe explain that, “for the airline industry, the high cost of jet fuel already provides a strong incentive to limit its emissions: The expense of filling up their planes’ fuel tanks is the biggest variable cost for the airlines, often totaling more than one-third of their expenses. But unlike the electricity sector, setting an international standard has been a priority for the airlines, since that would avoid subjecting them to a patchwork of regulations if countries were to set their own rules. And it creates a level playing field for carriers, another major goal for the industry that must compete in a global market.” More from Pro:

LETTERS TO FIGHT LETTERS: POLITICO got a glimpse this week at two letters that show the big three airlines — United, American and Delta — tried to stymie the U.S. Travel Association’s letter-writing campaign urging the Obama administration not to renegotiate Open Skies agreements with the UAE and Qatar. Our Kathryn A. Wolfe reports that “In a letter ( dated May 28, and another ( from May 14, the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies — an umbrella group for the big three airlines and labor — writes that they ‘fully support Open Skies policy’ and wants it to be ‘enforced.’ But the group also says it wants the administration to ‘initiate bilateral consultations’ with the nations in question. The U.S. Travel letter ( also exposes the rift between U.S. airlines: United, Delta and American support reopening Open Skies agreements, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Alaskan and FedEx Corp., do not.”

HOUSE LAWMAKERS AGAIN TRY THWARTING CUBA TRAVEL: Once more attempting to restrict travel to Cuba, House lawmakers advanced a bill this week that would further stymie educational trips to the Caribbean country. The House Appropriations Financial Services Subcommittee approved the measure on Thursday in an attempt to keep education travel limited to academic exchanges required for a degree. More from Pro’s Victoria Guida: The bill:

SHIPPERS COMPLAIN ABOUT STB’S COMPLAINT PROCESS: Advocates for agriculture shippers are pushing the STB to revamp its process for challenging freight rates. The National Grain and Feed Association argues that shippers can complain if rates are unreasonably high but that the process is “too costly, too unwieldy, too time consuming and provide no opportunity for rate relief to the vast majority of captive rail shippers of agricultural commodities.” More from Pro’s Bill Tomson:


— Virgin America pilots, represented by ALPA, elected union officers this week, picking Jose Palacios as chairman of the Virgin America Master Executive Council, Keith Louis as council vice chairman and Joe Youngerman as secretary-treasurer.

— American Association of Airport Executives members elected Jeff Mulder this week as their chairman, as well as six other new executive committee members: Carl Newman as first vice chairman, Scott Brockman as second vice chairman, and Jeanne Olivier as secretary and treasurer. Mulder is director of airports at the Tulsa Airports Improvement Trust. Newman is CEO of the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority. Brockman is president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. And Olivier is assistant director for aviation security at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.


— Japan Airlines pilot suspended over stewardess-in-cockpit photo. Bloomberg Business:

— Shark dies after transport truck runs off Florida interstate. AP:

— Transit backers urge Maryland governor to ‘finally take a tour’ of the Purple Line. The Washington Post:

— Indianapolis’ ‘Freedom Fleet’ of electric cars is in trouble. Route Fifty:

— Apps boost motorcycle taxis. The Wall Street Journal:

— Soon, cars may take away the keys of a drunken driver. The New York Times:

— Derailed freight train falls from bridge onto Texas highway. AP:

— Google’s next project: Fixing congested cities. The Wall Street Journal:

— Doctors thought Germanwings co-pilot was unfit to fly, prosecutor says. The Washington Post:

— Airbus-Boeing efficiency drive trumps dazzle at Paris air show. Bloomberg Business:

— Gasoline industry wrestles with biofuel law’s unintended consequences. The Wall Street Journal:

— D.C. Circulator to debut Mall route Sunday. The Washington Post:

— Cattle truck spills clog Oklahoma highways with livestock. Reuters:

THE COUNTDOWN: Highway and transit policy expires in 50 days. DOT appropriations run out and the FAA reauthorization expires in 111 days. The 2016 presidential election is in 517 days.