Chao kicks up dust with pilot rule comments

With help from Lauren Gardner, Brianna Gurciullo and Tanya Snyder

DON’T LOOK AT ME: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao made it clear Thursday that when it comes to any changes to the 1,500-hour pilot training requirement for first officers, DOT likely won’t touch it unless Congress says so, our Lauren reports. “That has actually made it so much harder for so many other experienced veterans in flying to enter this field,” she said at a Washington Post Live event. “This is obviously a very sensitive subject, and until the Congress advises us otherwise, it’s very hard for us to do anything on that, obviously, because we have to comply with the rules and regulations and the law.” She added that lawmakers should have a “robust discussion” about the issue and that there’s “this side effect, unanticipated, corollary impact of reducing the number of pilots,” but that DOT ultimately would “abide by the wishes of Congress.”

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No thanks: That was enough to get members of the New York delegation fired up, with a bipartisan, bicameral group admonishing Chao later that day for calling “on Congress to change the heightened experience requirements for commercial airline co-pilots.” As Pros know, pilot training has been a major issue with the Senate’s FAA reauthorization bill, S. 1405 (115), and while many rural-state lawmakers are increasingly concerned with the status quo, there’s sizeable opposition in both chambers to any tweaks. “We respectfully request that you continue to look for real solutions to bring more pilots into the pipeline, such as your recent veteran pilot initiative,” the members wrote, referencing the Forces to Flyers program.

HAPPY FRIDAY: Thanks for tuning in to POLITICO’s Morning Transportation, your daily tipsheet on all things trains, planes, automobiles and ports. Stephanie is steering you into the weekend. Send her your tips, scoops and song requests: sbeasley@politico.com or @Steph_Beasley.

Cruise down the street in front of school / I wanna rev it up but I gotta be cool / Drivin’ down the road I’ll get my kicks / A’poppin’ the clutch and a’slippin’ the sticks

LISTEN HERE: Follow MT’s playlist on Spotify. What better way to start your day than with songs (picked by us and readers) about roads, rails and runways?

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EASY PEASY: The Senate Appropriations Committee easily approved its fiscal 2019 spending bill for DOT on Thursday. Brianna has a breakdown of proposed funding levels here. Read the text for yourself here as well as the report.) The panel also adopted a managers’ package mostly consisting of additional report language.

(Almost) on the same page: The Senate’s legislation sets aside $3.5 million to reimburse airports that shut down because of temporary flight restrictions around President Donald Trump’s residences. The companion measure in the House has a similar provision. However, the Senate goes further in requiring an “independent audit” before airport sponsors receive reimbursement.

NOFO-ot dragging: In their report, Senate appropriators call out DOT for its “slow pace of awarding and obligating funding from competitive discretionary programs.” For some of those programs, the bill sets deadlines for funding opportunity notices and grant announcements.

LIFT US UP WHERE WE BELONG: The FAA on Thursday issued another list of federal facilities where drone flights would be restricted. The agency will, for the first time, limit drone operations over federal prisons and Coast Guard facilities, your MT host reports. The changes were requested by the departments of Homeland Security and Justice and came just a day after officials urged a Senate panel to move forward with legislation that would grant them new authorities to identify, track and destroy suspicious drones.

BE CAREFUL: NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King urged South Floridians to be diligent and check if their cars were among those recalled for defective Takata air bags. “I am deeply concerned over the high number of unrepaired defective air bags in vehicles here in South Florida,” King said in a statement Thursday, advising drivers to check their vehicle identification numbers. NHTSA said South Florida is considered one of the highest risk areas in the country for recalled vehicles that include model year 2006 Ford Rangers and Mazda-B Series trucks.

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NTSB: NO HANDS DETECTED ON TESLA WHEEL: A Tesla in Autopilot mode that crashed in March did not detect the driver’s hands on the wheel in the six seconds before the vehicle hit a highway barrier and killed him, NTSB said Thursday in a preliminary report. As Lauren writes, the system only alerted the driver three times about putting his hands back on the wheel — all more than 15 minutes before the crash. The Tesla was trailing another car before it moved left and hit a crash attenuator separating the highway from an exit ramp.

FAREWELL: It seems like just yesterday that the MT team met TSA spokesman Matt Leas. In fact, it was just a little over four months ago when he transitioned over from the IRS press shop. Well, apparently the folks at IRS missed him so much they snatched him back. Leas is returning to the agency with a new title — chief of media relations. “I’ve truly enjoyed my time at TSA and it’s difficult to leave a world class public affairs team, but it’s the right decision for me at this point in my career,” Leas said in a statement to MT, adding that “working under the leadership of Assistant Administrator Michael Bilello and Deputy Assistant Administrator Jim Gregory has been a true honor.” Best of luck, Matt!

SHIFTING GEARS: Leslie Shedd has joined Rep. Jim Renacci’s (R-Ohio) Senate campaign as senior communications adviser. She was previously vice president of communications at the National Restaurant Association. (h/t POLITICO Playbook)

SLICE OF PI: Akin Gump has registered to lobby on behalf of Cranemasters Inc. on hours-of-service regulations as well as for CTIA, Exelon and PrecisionHawk on FAA reauthorization. (h/t POLITICO Influence)

THE AUTOBAHN:

— “Munoz: Airlines’ next stab at overhauling air traffic control ‘coming together’.” POLITICO Pro.

— “GE wants to be a traffic cop for drones.” CNN Money.

— “Senate appropriators dump on Trump infrastructure plan.” POLITICO Pro.

— “Record-breaking number of guns confiscated from Atlanta airport.” WSB-TV Atlanta.

— “Leaders poised to provide discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers.” The New York Times.

— “Amtrak asked to keep West Virginia ticket counter open.” The Associated Press.

— “Watch the video of TSA officers doing a pat-down of a 96-year-old woman in a wheelchair that has people outraged.” The Washington Post.

— Editorial: “Flyers’ rights hit turbulence.” USA Today.

THE COUNTDOWN: DOT appropriations run out in 115 days. The FAA reauthorization expires in 115 days. Highway and transit policy is up for renewal in 846 days.

** A message from PlanetM: PlanetM is a partnership of mobility organizations, communities, educational institutions, research and development, and government agencies working together to develop and deploy the mobility technologies driving the future. Available to any mobility-focused company or investor, PlanetM is also a no-cost, concierge service that connects you to Michigan’s automotive ecosystem — the people, places and resources dedicated to the evolution of transportation mobility. Michigan has always been the leader of the automotive industry, and as vehicle and transportation technologies continue to evolve in amazing ways, Michigan is continuing to lead the way. Learn more at PlanetM.com. **

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