The airline industry has lured away a top Obama administration official to lobby Congress, and the Families of Continental Flight 3407 said Wednesday that they are not at all happy about it.
The Air Transport Association, which represents commercial airlines, recently hired Sean Kennedy, formerly a White House special assistant to the president, to be senior vice president of global government affairs.
"Strategic moves like this hire are exactly how the airlines have been able to successfully obstruct critical safety initiatives for the past 20 years, and we're here to shine the light of day on this arrangement and say that this is not right," said John Kausner of Clarence, one of the leading members of the families group.
Kausner linked Kennedy's hiring to delays in federal approval for new regulations aimed at preventing pilot fatigue, which the families believe was one of the causes of the 2009 plane crash in Clarence Center, which claimed 50 lives.
Those regulations are currently under review at the Office of Management and Budget, and the airlines have opposed them, citing their cost.
"How can we compete when we do not have any plum, six-figure salary, senior vice president positions to offer to someone who probably has all the top OMB officials on speed-dial?" said Kausner, whose daughter, Ellyce, was killed in the crash. "No wonder there's been a nonstop parade of airline lobbyists over at OMB for the past month."
A spokesman for the Air Transport Association said, though, that Kennedy would not and could not lobby the Obama administration on the fatigue regulations or any other matter. That's because of an administration policy that bars such lobbying by former administration officials.
"We can say unequivocally that Sean will certainly comply with these rules," said Steve Lott, vice president for communications at the airlines group. "He is not lobbying on the flight and duty time rules, and he will not lobby the Obama administration, ever."
Terming Kausner's comments "an inaccurate and inappropriate personal attack," Lott said Kennedy was hired to lobby Congress on issues important to the airlines, such as proposed new taxes on airline tickets.
Still, the Flight 3407 families insisted that Kennedy's hiring was part of the airlines' larger effort to gain influence in Washington and stymie the safety regulations called for under legislation the families pushed to passage last year.
"Clearly, [the airlines] have gained some traction here, so we are publicly calling on the president and his administration officials to stand up to this industry maneuvering and do what is right for the safety of the flying public," said Scott Maurer, whose daughter, Lorin, was killed in the crash.