People came to a 10th Congressional District town hall January 13 to ask about taxes, health care, immigration, Washington politics and the Amtrak Hiawatha expansion. But six United Airlines’ pilots were there to talk about the safety of air travel.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) answered questions from a crowd of more than 100 people at his first Congress on Your Corner of 2018 at the newly finished Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.
Dave Eastman of Lincolnshire, a United pilot and the 10th Congressional District representative of the Air Line Pilots Association, came with five of his colleagues. He talked about four foreign airlines that undercut fare prices with subsidies from their governments or utilize loopholes to policies regulating the experience of crew and plane maintenance personnel.
Eastman thanked Schneider for his part in asking President Donald J. Trump and his administration to support the Open Skies trade agreement, which puts policies in place to ensure fair competition between airlines, both domestic and foreign, which fly in and out of the United States.
Three Middle Eastern airlines—Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates—owned by Qatar or the United Emirates are able to fly passengers to and from the United States and their countries for fares as low as $500 because of subsidies they receive from their governments, according to Eastman.
“All we want is fair competition,” said Eastman. “It’s hard to compete when they’re getting government subsidies.”
Airline Safety Stressed
Eastman also criticized a Norwegian carrier that operates with contract labor to avoid hiring higher paid personnel to fly and maintain its planes. He said those practices not only hurt competition but create safety issues.
“We would much rather you complain about the food and the (fees for) bags than about your relative who was killed in a crash,” said Eastman.
The pilots also thanked Schneider for signing a letter to the secretaries of state, commerce and transportation asking the administration to enforce Open Skies. All 18 members of the House of Representatives from Illinois, Republican and Democrat, signed.
“This is a good example of bipartisanship cooperation,” said Schneider. “It is a way to have a level playing field for all airlines and safety standards with trained individuals.
The last question and comment of the day came from Joanne Desmond of Lake Forest, the president of the Academy Woods Homeowners Association. She is a leader of opposition along the North Shore to a proposal by the Federal Railroad Administration which she believes will impact property owners from Glenview through Lake Forest.
Amtrak Hiawatha Expansion Discussed
The FRA is suggesting construction of a pair of approximately two-mile long holding tracks to allow faster passenger trains to pass slower freights. The FRA is trying to determine if the third rails are necessary to approves three additional round trips a day for Amtrak between Chicago and Milwaukee.
One of the third rails is proposed along the Metra tracks from just north of Highway 60 to near Highway 176 in Rondout. Another 10,000 foot holding track is proposed to span Glenview and Northbrook between West Lake Avenue and Techny Road. A 1,500-foot third rail is suggested north of Greenwood Avenue in Deerfield.
Schneider explained the details of the FRA proposal to the crowd and said what he is doing to support the homeowners. He said when he got calls from the top elected officials in Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Deerfield, Bannockburn, Northbrook and Glenview it got his attention. He is supporting a more detailed study on the impact of the project before any approval.
“We want to assure the safety of the community,” said Schneider said in a DailyNorthShore.com interview after the town hall. “We want to know the impact on the community if God forbid there is a train accident where toxic or noxious material is spilled.”
Desmond said after the meeting in a DNS interview her group will fight an adverse FRA ruling to prevent the additional tracks. She is pleased with the support her group has received from Schneider.
“He is aware of the situation and has given us an opportunity to be heard,” said Desmond. “He came out and walked the tracks with us.”
A major line of questions from participants was about the tax reform package signed into law by the President late last year. There was a lot of criticism of its impact on people in the room. Schneider said tax reform is important but wants it done in a more methodical, bipartisan way.
“We need tax reform and after this bill we still need tax reform,” said Schneider. “We needed to lower the corporate tax rate but I think we lowered it too much. We need a bipartisan bill with hearings so we can hear experts tell us the fixes.”