The Department of Transportation, acting under President Bush’s orders, is preparing to issue an administrative ruling that would open U.S. airlines up to foreign ownership, despite specific prohibitions and warnings from Congress, as well as predictions by pilots that another Dubai ports controversy is in the offing.
The proposed ruling puts the Air Line Pilots Association, or ALPA – the largest airline pilot union in the world representing 61,000 pilots who fly for 40 U.S. and Canadian airlines – at odds with the Bush administration.
The administration is determined to comply with European Union demands presented in the November 2005 “open skies” negotiations. (So-called “open skies” agreements are bilateral or multilateral agreements that liberalize the rules for international aviation markets and minimize government intervention.)
The EU is threatening to delay the signing of an open skies treaty unless the U.S. changes restrictions on the percentage of a U.S. airline that can be foreign-owned. The U.S. currently has 74 bilateral open skies agreements, none of which require any rule changes on the foreign ownership of U.S. airlines.
The Bush administration continues to advocate the EU position, arguing that the Department of Transportation should issue new administrative rules, if necessary, even in direct defiance of Congress.
U.S. pilots have provided WND with copies of draft letters the Air Line Pilots Association has organized.
ALPA is encouraging pilots to write letters and e-mails of protest to Congress, newspapers and national television and radio outlets.
“Do not underestimate the seriousness of this issue!” ALPA has advised, “This is do-or-die, sink-or-swim time.”
Some U.S. pilots who have spoken with WND on condition of anonymity expressed concern about job reprisals.
The pilots have argued another Dubai Ports World-type controversy is brewing in which the “Bush administration does not care about selling out key U.S. assets to foreigners.” ALPA calls for action echo the alarm:
The writing is clearly on the wall! This Administration wants foreign investors, airlines or otherwise, to pay for the costs of our aviation infrastructure, while risking hundreds of thousands of aviation jobs, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program (CRAF), and the safety and security of our national airspace. Forty percent of all Air Force Reserve and National Guard pilots are also airline pilots.
ALPA believes the foreign-ownership issue is a fight for survival:
The time to act is now! Together, with every pilot across this country participating in this effort, we can stop this rogue attack on our profession and our industry. There is no issue more important than preventing this NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking) from moving forward. If the White House is successful in changing the foreign ownership rules through DOT affirmative action, within just a few short years our industry will mirror the maritime industry. Our jobs will no longer exist, our country’s ability to militarily act abroad will be handicapped, and our families may no longer be safe in our own airspace!
The ALPA concern concludes with this: “Our country already has a dependence upon foreign oil. Are we going to allow the DOT to make air travel dependent on foreign airlines, too?”
On June 14, in an official statement of administration policy, the Office of Management and Budget in the executive office of the president put out a notice that the Department of Transportation intended to change the foreign ownership rule by issuing a new administrative rule:
The Administration understands that an amendment may be offered to prohibit the use of funds to implement a final rule regarding foreign investment in U.S. airlines. The proposed rule would facilitate a landmark agreement with the European Union that would provide significant benefit to consumers as well as the domestic passenger and cargo airline industry. The Administration has worked with Congress to address concerns with the final rule and recently extended the final comment period by an additional 60 days. The Administration strongly opposes any amendment that would prevent the Department of Transportation from finalizing its rule.
To counter the Bush administration, five congressmen wrote a letter eight days later, June 22, to DOT Secretary Norman Mineta on U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure stationary.
In citing specific congressional prohibitions, the letter noted Congress had taken two specific actions to put the White House on notice that “a major change to the current law regarding foreign ownership of U.S. airlines should be accomplished only by congressional action, not unilaterally imposed by the executive branch.”
The letter cited the following congressional prohibitions:
First, the Conference Report on H.R. 4939, Making Emergency Supplementary Appropriations for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2006, includes ‘language preventing the Secretary from issuing a final rule regarding foreign control of U.S. airlines for 120 days.’ Second, during consideration of H.R. 5576 – the Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, the District of Columbia, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (TTHUD appropriations), the House adopted, by an overwhelming vote of 291 to 137, an amendment prohibiting the department from finalizing or implementing the policy proposed in the rulemaking during the next fiscal year.
The letter concluded by reminding Mineta, “the courts have ruled that an executive branch agency does not have authority to interpret a law in a manner inconsistent with the plain meaning of the words of the law.”
Signing the letter were Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.; chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Frank A. LoBiondo, R-N.J.; chairman on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee; Ted Poe, R-Texas; James L. Oberstar. D-Minn., ranking Democratic member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee; and Jerry F. Costello, D-Ill., ranking Democratic member of the Subcommittee on Aviation.
A major proponent of the rule change has been Under Secretary of Transportation Jeffery Shane, who was quoted on a government Web site in April suggesting Mineta remains “committed to completing this important rulemaking procedure.”
Jerome R. Corsi received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in political science in 1972 and has written many books and articles, including co-authoring with John O’Neill the No. 1 New York Times best-seller, “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry.” Dr. Corsi’s most recent books include “Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil,” which he co-authored with WND columnist Craig. R. Smith, and “Atomic Iran: How the Terrorist Regime Bought the Bomb and American Politicians.”