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Reno Incident Underscores Need for Modernization, Resources

Reno Incident Underscores Need for Modernization, Resources

As the country learned today and certainly we
learned in Nevada there was a terrifying close call at the Reno
airport last night. It’s a miracle that everyone is ok today we’re grateful that they are. This is what happened: Only one air traffic controller was in the
tower during last night’s overnight shift. A medical aircraft carrying a critically ill passenger couldn’t land because the controller fell asleep. He fell asleep on the job. We now know that the pilot circled several
Times. We now know that he tried to call the tower not once, not twice but seven times. The controller slept through every one of these calls, he slept through this circling of the
aircraft. More than fifteen minutes later with a passenger critically ill in the airplane. Minutes during which no one could reach
air traffic controller, while this critically ill passenger suffered in that aircraft. The pilot landed without any guidance from the
airport. Now Mister President the Reno airport is situated right below the Great Sierra Nevada
Mountains and its an extremely difficult place to land. Those of us who’ve been landing there for
all these years we all know how terribly roughly it is many times coming out of there with the winds coming off of the sierras. And to think that this pilot was forced to land without any controls on the land is very scary. This shouldn’t happen in Nevada and this shouldn’t
happen anywhere in our country. It shouldn’t happen in any airplane and certainly shouldn’t happen in an air ambulance or to an air ambulance. I spoke just a short time ago with secretary
of transportation. I’m very happy that he’s acting and acting quickly. To make sure this never happens again in Reno or anywhere else in the country. We know we had an experience here a few weeks ago
right here in Washington D.C. The same type of situation. Why did it happen? Reno was one of 27 airports
across the country that sometimes had only one air traffic controller on the overnight shift. Because of secretary Lahood’s quick action there will now be zero. Affective immediately every airport will now have at least
two air traffic controllers in the tower any given time. Now as I indicated I’ve flown into that airport
and out of that airport many many times. In October I was there for a Celebration. We were opening a new control tower it was very badly needed. The old one you couldn’t see parts of the runways. When Reno’s old control tower was built Dwight Eisenhower
was President and the Dodgers were in Brooklyn and a half century since then the area’s population
has more than tripled. So it was fitting at the time we said we needed a
control tower three times as tall as the old one. But last night’s near tragedy reminds us at the
state in the art structures and the best technology work only as well as the people operating them. If these people fall asleep on the job literally they risk the lives of millions of Americans who fly into and out of airports here in America
every day. Secretary Lahood and randy Babbitt the FAA
administrator are doing their jobs. I appreciate their responsiveness and share their outrage at this has ever happened. But Ms. President, congress also has a key role
to play we have to do our jobs. The Senate passed a bill in February two months
ago to modernize America’s air travel we save or create without legislation 280,000 jobs. It would improve aviation safety and protect
travelers and that’s an understatement. It would even help reduce delays, provide access
to rural communities and do all this while creating jobs. Republican House also passed a companion bill
just a few days ago but the House bills’ almost the opposite of
ours. It’s dangerous, it doesn’t predict passengers it imperils passengers. The Republican bill we got it from the House would
cut the modern navigation systems at our nation’s airports. It’s hard to comprehend A FAA bill which we’ve had to give short term extensions to. I don’t know
exactly the number of times but like 14 different times. Now we’re going to try to pass a bill that doesn’t modernize our navigation systems at our airports, that would be wrong. The FAA said that the house bill would
force it to furlough safety related employees. Not just any employee those whose primary job is keeping air travel
safe. That doesn’t make any sense. It also keeps airports from making the infrastructure improvements they need and
would completely end the program that ensures rural communities, small towns like Ely, Nevada have air service. The Senate passed a bill and the House passed a
bill are now in conference to work out the differences. Clearly there are a lot of differences and
the conferees have some choices to make and important choices. But they need to make them quickly so that both Houses can pass this bill
and send it to the President and do it quickly. Ms. President this bill passed here on a huge
bipartisan vote. so again we’re grateful that everyone in Reno
was ok but the next time we may not be so fortunate. Let’s make our airports and air travel as
safe as possible, as soon as possible so the next time we don’t have to rely on luck and that’s what it was.

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