Votes Against Transportation Nominees Stem From Pilot-Training Dispute

By Shaun Courtney

Senate Democrats signaled their dissatisfaction with the pilot-training provision of the FAA reauthorization bill (S. 1405) by voting against two Transportation Department nominees.

The nominations of Bruce Landsberg for the National Transportation Safety Board and Lynn Westmoreland for the Amtrak board of directors were approved by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Nov. 8 on a voice vote. However, most committee Democrats issued recorded “no” votes.

Landsberg faced repeated questioning during his earlier confirmation hearing over remarks in which he suggested training of 1,500 flight hours might not be necessary for regional airline co-pilots.

The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure that the committee has approved includes an amendment approved on a party-line vote that would ease the current federally mandated commercial airline co-pilot training of 1,500 flight hours to allow other forms of training at the discretion of the Federal Aviation Administration.Proponents believe the provision will help reduce a pilot shortage, but opponents worry about safety. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has made good on his promise to block the FAA bill with the training language included.

The 1,500-hour rule came about in response to the deadly 2009 Colgan Air crash in Schumer’s home state.

No Plans to Block Nominees

The Democrats’ Nov. 8 votes don’t signal a larger effort to derail the nominations, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Bloomberg Government.

“We have no plan to delay or obstruct that nomination,” Blumenthal said after he led several of his fellow committee Democrats in recorded votes against Landsberg.

The pilot-training controversy, however, continues to brew.

“We keep trying,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) told Bloomberg Government about efforts to resolve the disagreement.

Cantwell leads the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security subcommittee.

“There’s a whole plethora of people involved, but I think the issue is we want to have skilled pilots and we want to make sure we’re getting those in all areas,” Cantwell said.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) has said he would like to move the Senate’s bill either by the end of the year or early in the new year.

The FAA’s six-month authorization extension runs through March 31.

The nominations of Westmoreland, a former House Republican from Georgia, and Landsberg now go to the full Senate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bgov.com

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