Chair DeFazio Statement from Hearing on NTSB Reauthorization
Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled, “National Transportation Safety Board Reauthorization.”
Video of Chair DeFazio’s opening statement is here.
More information on the hearing can be found here.
I would like to thank National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy for appearing before us today. Chair Homendy’s dedication to transportation safety has defined her career. She was a tireless advocate for safety while serving as the Staff Director of the T&I Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials from 2004 to 2018. That fierce dedication to improving safety led her to the NTSB in 2018, and I expect it to shape her tenure as Chair.
The NTSB is an independent federal agency responsible for civil transportation accident investigation. The NTSB is charged with investigating every civil aviation accident in the United States and significant accidents that occur on other modes of transportation—such as major accidents that involve a railroad, highway, maritime operation, or pipeline. The agency establishes the facts and circumstances, determines the probable cause, and issues safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents.
The NTSB was last reauthorized in the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018, and its current authorization expires at the end of this fiscal year. That’s why it’s important for us to hear from NTSB today about its reauthorization proposal, and its challenges and priorities for meeting its safety mission in the coming years.
Even as the transportation sector has expanded and the size of the U.S. Department of Transportation has increased by more than 2,000 employees over the last 10 years, NTSB has remained at the same staffing levels. With the caseload at NTSB increasing and many long-serving NTSB employees near retirement, the agency must attract talent for the future. Moreover, as the NTSB expands its hiring pool, it must seek to attract a more diverse workforce and prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
Another important item addressed in NTSB’s reauthorization proposal is the timeliness of its accident investigation reports. From 2016 to 2020, the average length of time it took NTSB to investigate an accident across modes crept up from 18.7 months in 2016 to 21.6 months in 2020. The longer that NTSB takes to issue reports and recommendations, the longer it takes for other agencies to implement them—these delays have detrimental impacts on safety. I look forward to hearing from Chair Homendy about what resources the agency needs to address these challenges.
Separately, I want to acknowledge the recent crash on March 21, 2022, of a Boeing 737-800 NG operated by China Eastern Airlines in southern China, killing all 132 passengers and crew aboard. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the victims. While we are still awaiting details on the causes of the crash, I hope to hear from Chair Homendy about the role NTSB and other U.S.-based stakeholders may play in the ongoing investigation. We need answers, and we need to be ready to take action to ensure the global aviation system is as safe as possible.
An ongoing concern for this committee is the FAA’s implementation of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act (ACSAA) and recommendations from the NTSB and other investigative authorities following the Boeing 737 MAX crashes. While the NTSB was not the lead civil aviation authority for the investigations of the crashes, NTSB did participate and took decisive action by issuing a series of recommendations to the FAA in September 2019 related to assumptions used in the safety assessment process and the effects of multiple alerts and indications on pilot performance. We based several provisions of the aircraft certification legislation on these recommendations.
Now Boeing is seeking certification from the FAA of the Boeing 737 MAX-10, which will not have an advanced flight crew alerting system—a system that became an industry standard in 1982 and is on every current Airbus and Boeing model under production except for the 737s. The aircraft certification bill gave the FAA a two-year grace period to certify aircraft without the advanced flight crew alerting system, but that grace period should not be extended. I urge the FAA to take a close look at the NTSB’s recommendations and this committee’s extensive investigation report before completing its certification.
I look forward to hearing from Chair Homendy on these important issues. I now recognize Ranking Member Sam Graves for his opening statement.
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