2013’s five biggest transportation stories

The merger of two U.S. airlines and delayed flights caused by the sequester were among the biggest transportation stories of the year.

{mosads}Here’s a look back:

1) Railway accidents

{mosads}Nearly every quarter of 2013 was marked by a  major transportation accident. In May, a pair of New York Metro-North commuter railway trains collided in Connecticut, the first of four major on the railway in 2013. The crashes prompted calls for an automated train control system and prompted the Department of Transportation to crack down on commuter rail safety at year’s end.

2) Sequester flight delays.

When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) furloughed workers as a result of the government shutdown in October, it caused flight delays around the country that contributed to complaints about Congress. The agency purposely delayed hundreds of flights per day to deal with reduced staffing. Airlines responded by making announcements at boarding gates urging passengers to blame Congress and the sequester. Within two weeks, Congress past legislation allowing the FAA to move money from other parts of its budget to pay for air traffic controllers — just in time for a recess week when lawmakers were likely to be flying themselves.

3) In-flight electronics/phone calls

Flights got a lot more entertaining in 2013 when the FAA relented to pressure and relaxed its rules on in-flight electronic devices. The FAA studied the impact of electronics on airplane operations for most of the year and then came to the conclusion that lawmakers like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) had already reached: that there wasn’t much impact. The agency announced on Oct. 31 that passengers on almost all airlines would be able to keep their electronic devices on by the end of the year.

The suggestion that this could lead to in-flight calls appears to have been a bridge too far, however.

While the Federal Communications Commission said the change warranted a review of its ban on in-flight calls, that suggestion drew a sharp pushback from lawmakers, who rushed to file legislation to maintain the ban. Separately, the federal Transportation Department said it might act independently of the FCC to keep flights a quiet zone.

4) US Air-American Airlines merger.

US Airways and American Airlines announced their plans to complete an $11 billion merger in February. The merger continues a trend toward consolidation that has drastically altered the aviation industry in recent years. While the Department of Justice in August filed a lawsuit to block the merger, arguing the combined airlines would violate federal anti-trust laws and result in higher prices for passengers, the sides ultimately settled. The two companies gave up landing rights at airports in New York and Washington, D.C. and the merger was allowed to go through.

5) Water Resources

The biggest piece of new transportation legislation was an $8.2 bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways. The Senate and House both approved measures, though a conference committee has yet to settle differences. President Obama has indicated that he prefers the Democratically-controlled Senate’s approach to the water legislation, which identifies projects to receive future appropriations. But Obama has said he would accept the House’s version, which relies less on the Army Corps. of Engineers to select projects than the Senate. Lawmakers were not able to dock the water bill on Obama’s desk before year’s end, but its prospects in 2014 look good.


Tags Aviation Claire McCaskill Federal Aviation Administration Open Travel Alliance US Airways water bill

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