March 22, 2010

Udall Applauds Senate Vote to Improve Airline Safety, Create Jobs

Bill Includes Udall Proposal to Prevent Drunk Driving by Intoxicated Air Travelers

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, today applauded the Senate's 93-0 approval of the FAA Reauthorization Act, which will improve air travel safety and create thousands of jobs. The bill includes a proposal by Udall to prevent drunk driving and "air rage" by travelers who have consumed too much alcohol on airplanes.

Udall, who remained in Santa Fe with his family on Monday following the passing of his father, is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and voted in favor of the bill in committee last summer.

The FAA Reauthorization includes language in a bill Udall first introduced in the House in 2006 and last year reintroduced in the Senate. Originally called the Airline Training Enhancement Act, the proposal would require airlines to train employees to identify and cope with inebriated or belligerent passengers. Under the legislation, airline personnel would be trained to make informed decisions when allowing people to board flights, when deciding whether a passenger should or should not be served alcohol, and when dealing with drunk or belligerent passengers.

Current federal regulations prohibit an intoxicated person from boarding a flight. However, only some airlines provide training to ensure that the regulations are obeyed and that airline personnel can cope with drunk or belligerent passengers.

"Airline personnel are on the front line for ensuring flight and passenger safety. Unfortunately, airlines do not always give their employees the skills they need to meet their responsibilities," Udall said. "This bill will help protect airline personnel and the public from the dangers associated with excessive or abusive drinking."

Udall noted that the idea for his airline attendant training proposal was prompted in 2006, after a drunk driving crash occurred in his district resulting in the deaths of five family members and leaving one survivor.

The family of six was driving home from a soccer match on I-25 when they were struck by a drunk driver speeding down the wrong side of the interstate. The driver, who also died in the crash, had a blood alcohol content level four times the legal limit. Just hours before the accident, witnesses say he was noticeably intoxicated on board a flight to New Mexico.

"While this legislation won't stop all drunk driving crashes from occurring, it will make it more difficult for drunk air passengers to deplane and drive," Udall said. "The goal is to save lives, and I believe that is what this legislation will do."

The FAA Reauthorization also would:

  • Create or save 150,000 jobs by investing in airport infrastructure; 
  • Improve commercial airline service to small and rural communities; 
  • Establish better consumer rights protections for air travelers; 
  • Invest $500 million to modernize air traffic control facilities; and 
  • Research environmental initiatives and improvements.

"Through this legislation, we take the next important step toward getting the economy moving again by creating good-paying jobs, improving travel safety, and strengthening our air traffic control infrastructure," Udall said.