September 26, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on FAA Reauthorization of 2018 Implementation

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), and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) during today’s hearing titled: “A Work in Progress: Implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling today’s hearing on implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018—a bipartisan bill that, barring another senseless government shutdown, will keep the lights on at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the next four years.

By my count, the bill contains more than 400 mandates for FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) rulemakings, studies, and reports to Congress—many with the same deadline of either six months or a year from enactment. I’m a realist. I recognize it will take time for the FAA and the DOT to work through the list. But I want to highlight a few mandates whose implementation is either late or about to be late—and I want to put this administration on notice that I will be monitoring progress on these mandates very, very closely.

First and foremost is the issue of flight attendant fatigue. Much has happened in aviation safety over the last 25 years. We’ve seen new pilot fatigue rules, new pilot training rules, new pilot qualifications rules, reduced vertical separation between airplanes, and the list goes on.

But here’s what we haven’t seen from the FAA in the last 25 years: updated rules recognizing that cabin crewmembers do not get adequate rest between flights under the FAA’s 1994 requirement on cabin crew rest.

Those rules allow an airline to keep a flight attendant on duty for 14 hours and then provide only an eight-hour break between flights. That’s not eight hours of rest; that eight hours includes walking through the terminal, finding the stop for the shuttle bus to the hotel and waiting for it to arrive,  riding the shuttle bus to the hotel, checking into a hotel room, maybe calling home, and then it’s lights out for a few hours until the next 14-hour clock starts at the airport just five or six hours later.

The FAA itself has acknowledged the effects of fatigue on the human body. The agency’s rulemaking proposal for improved pilot fatigue rules in 2010 cited the following effects, among others:

  • Lapses of attention and vigilance;
  • Delayed reactions;
  • Impaired decision-making, including a reduced ability to assess risk; and
  • Reduced situational awareness.

We’ve seen accident after accident in the United States where flight attendants’ quick action saved lives. To name but a few: American Airlines flight 1420, which overran the runway in Little Rock in 1999; US Airways flight 1549, which ditched into the Hudson River in 2009; and Asiana flight 214, which crash-landed in San Francisco in 2013. When a situation unravels from routine to total chaos, that’s when the flying public expects cabin crews to be rested and ready to spring into action.

The bill set a deadline of November 4 of last year for the Secretary of Transportation to issue a final rule guaranteeing flight attendants a minimum of 10 hours’ rest, no exceptions. Yet all we’ve seen so far is an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, soliciting information from airlines and others on the costs of complying with that mandate—even as some 15 airlines have adopted some version of a 10-hour rest rule voluntarily. I consider the administration to be woefully delinquent in fulfilling this important mandate.

Second is a related issue: cabin evacuations. In 1985, before I was elected to Congress, 55 people died during the botched evacuation of British Airtours flight 28M in Manchester. After I was elected, I persisted in response to that tragedy until the FAA finally adopted spacing requirements for exit-row seats in 1992.

But evacuations continue to be a problem. After a Boeing 767 became engulfed in flames following an uncontained engine failure during its takeoff roll in Chicago in 2016, the scene in the cabin was a complete melee as passengers tried to evacuate the burning plane dragging huge carry-on bags with them. To quote from the National Transportation Safety Board’s report:

In one case, a flight attendant tried to take a bag away from a passenger who did not follow the instruction to evacuate without baggage, but the flight attendant realized that the struggle over the bag was prolonging the evacuation and allowed the passenger to take the bag.

The FAA says it should take 90 seconds to evacuate a burning plane. It took 161 passengers and eight crew two minutes and 21 seconds to evacuate the 767 at O’Hare. So that to me begs the question: Are the FAA’s assumptions valid about how long it takes for cabin evacuations?

At my insistence, the bill requires the FAA Administrator to reassess the assumptions and methods behind certification of evacuation times and report to Congress on the matter. The deadline is coming up on October 5.

At a time when airlines are cramming more and more seats to reduce their costs per available seat-mile, the bill also requires the FAA to issue regulations on minimum dimensions of seats on airliners. Again, the final rule is due next week, on October 5, and I look forward to hearing from Deputy Administrator Elwell on the FAA’s progress in meeting this important safety-critical mandate.

Third is the requirement for installation of secondary cockpit barriers on transport-category airplanes. After 9/11, cockpit doors were reinforced, but pilots still need to leave the cockpit from time to time during flight. Although United installed what I understand were called “DeFazio barriers” on some of its 757s in recognition of my advocacy on this subject, in most cases the only protection for the flight deck during the moments when the cockpit door is open during flight is a flight attendant or beverage cart stationed in front of the entryway.

Thank god no terrorist has exploited this vulnerability since 9/11, but it’s long past time to close the loophole, so the bill requires the FAA—again, by October 5—to require installation of secondary cockpit barriers on all newly manufactured airliners. Inasmuch as the working group tasked with developing this requirement has asked for an extension of the September 19 deadline for submitting its recommendations, I’m pessimistic that the FAA will meet the deadline, and I’ll be keen to hear from Deputy Administrator Elwell as to when we’ll see some further action on this mandate.

Fourth is a provision I authored that removed a foolish ban on FAA regulation of recreational drones, which account for more than one million of the drones in U.S. airspace today. For more than six years, that ban prevented the FAA from addressing the serious safety and security risks drones pose, many of which can be alleviated through basic remote identification (ID) requirements for operators. These risks have held back the U.S. commercial drone industry, as additional FAA rules permitting expanded commercial drone operations, such as routine operations over people and at night, have been at a standstill.

I was under the impression that my provision would provide the FAA with the authority and tools needed to move forward with its remote ID rulemaking, which the industry at large agrees is the foundation necessary for the full and safe integration of drones. I was disappointed to learn that the agency’s efforts are again delayed—the third time this year—with the rule now expected in December. The FAA and its security partners must commit to issuing this rule as expeditiously as possible, and I look forward to hearing from the Deputy Administrator about efforts underway to ensure this happens.

Fifth is the safety and security of foreign aircraft repair stations. While not addressed in last year’s legislation, the 2016 FAA extension required the FAA to issue rules requiring that safety-sensitive workers at foreign repair stations be subject to alcohol and substance abuse screening and background investigations, just as workers at U.S. facilities are, and the 2012 reauthorization similarly required a rulemaking on substance abuse screening. However, to date, the FAA has failed to implement these important mandates.

I have been concerned for years over the FAA’s lax oversight of these facilities. Report after report by successive DOT Inspectors General has revealed troubling deficiencies in FAA oversight of foreign repair stations that perform more and more critical safety work on U.S.-registered aircraft. In fact, representatives of one airline told the Government Accountability Office in 2016, in a study at my request, that the airline uses 100 foreign repair stations.  I intend to do whatever is necessary in Congress to ensure parity between U.S. and foreign repair stations.  

While I’ve highlighted just a few provisions in my remarks, by no means do I want to imply that there aren’t dozens of other important provisions in the FAA bill in the areas of safety, consumer protections, accessibility for disabled passengers, and workforce development. For every requirement in the bill, this Subcommittee will remain focused on ensuring that Congress’s will is respected, however long it takes.

Thank you, Chair Larsen, and I yield back.

Chair DeFazio remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Larsen:

Good morning and thank you to the witnesses for joining today’s hearing on the implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

One year ago, this Committee wrote comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to:

?          Raise the bar on aviation safety;

?          Improve the flying experience for the traveling public;

?          Better prepare and diversify the aviation workforce; and

?          Foster innovation in U.S. airspace. 

Today’s hearing is a critical milestone in the Subcommittee’s oversight work to ensure the timely implementation of the law, in accordance with our intent, and to address new challenges.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made some progress on fulfilling the law’s directives, ongoing implementation delays threaten the important work needed to advance U.S. aviation and aerospace and maintain our global leadership.

On our first panel of witnesses are Dan Elwell, the FAA’s Deputy Administrator, and Joel Szabat, Acting Undersecretary for Policy at the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mr. Elwell, Mr. Szabat, I expect your testimony will offer substantive updates on the administration’s efforts to swiftly implement last year’s law.

Witnesses on today’s second panel reflect a broad range of aviation stakeholders who are uniquely positioned to comment on what is working, what is not and what Congress can do to keep the FAA and DOT on track.

I expect we will cover a lot of ground, so let me walk briefly through a few of my priorities.

Safety is this Subcommittee’s top priority.

The FAA’s current aerospace forecast predicts passenger traffic will increase roughly 2 percent per year over the next 20 years.

Congress must ensure appropriate safety rules are in place to safely accommodate this demand. Notably, the lack of modern rest requirements for flight attendants remains a critical aviation safety issue.

The current regulation, issued in 1994, allows airlines to roster flight attendants for just eight hours of rest. Instead of modifying the 1994 final rule on flight attendant rest to provide at least 10 hours of rest by November 4 of last year, as directed in the bill, the FAA just this week issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) soliciting comments on the costs and benefits of compliance with the mandate. I am concerned this action is yet another unnecessary delay.

Deputy Administrator, I expect you can shed more light on the FAA’s decision-making related to this issue.

Further, I look forward to hearing more about the necessity of the ANPRM, particularly as some 15 airlines have already implemented the mandate or are currently working toward compliance.

The bill also requires the FAA to issue guidance to aircrews and mechanics on responding to incidents involving smoke or fumes in cabins, as well as commission a study on cabin air quality. These directives are overdue, so I hope you can provide an update on how the FAA plans to fulfill these mandates.

Congress must ensure that the FAA efficiently integrates unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which are rapidly emerging, into the national airspace system. But Congress must also ensure that integration is safe.

This Committee made the necessary reforms in last year’s bill to ensure the agency could move forward on a remote identification rule. Although rulemaking was initiated more than one year ago, the publication date has been repeatedly delayed.

In July, I joined Chair DeFazio and Ranking Members Sam Graves and Garret Graves on a letter to the FAA and Office of Management and Budget raising questions about the delays in issuing the remote ID rule. But our questions remain unanswered.

Deputy Administrator Elwell and Mr. Szabat (Zuh-BOT), I expect you will provide us with those answers today.

Further, according to recent reports, the FAA, in partnership with three UAS test sites, has successfully completed test flights under phase 1 of the UAS traffic management (UTM) Pilot Program.

I look forward to hearing more about the lessons learned from this program to date and the potential impacts on the UAS industry.

As this Committee continues to support technological advances in U.S. aviation, the success of these efforts is possible with investment in the next generation of engineers, pilots, mechanics and innovators.

The FAA Reauthorization Act includes a comprehensive workforce development title, including my provision to create a new task force to encourage high school students to enroll in aviation manufacturing, maintenance and engineering apprenticeships.

With global aviation becoming more competitive, I am concerned by the FAA’s lack of progress on this mandate, as well as continued delays to establish a Women in Aviation Advisory Board to encourage women and girls to pursue aviation careers.

Improving access to workforce training and diversifying the aviation workforce is an all-around win for employers, job seekers and the aviation and aerospace sectors.

The FAA Reauthorization Act includes numerous provisions to improve the air travel experience for the more than 900 million passengers who fly in the United States each year.

For years, I have championed efforts to improve accessibility of air travel for passengers with disabilities.

I was pleased to see the reauthorization act included a robust title focused on improving the “curb to curb” experience for these passengers.

However, the Department’s commitment to these goals has been rightly called into question, as significant delays on rulemaking for several of these key mandates persist.

Moreover, the public is still waiting for final action on a rulemaking to ensure passengers with disabilities can access lavatories on single-aisle airplanes—action that I required in the 2016 FAA extension.

Additionally, last year’s act improves safety for the traveling public and airline employees by addressing sexual harassment and assault through open reporting and increased accountability.

There is no doubt that the FAA, DOT and this Committee have our work cut out for us.

Timely implementation of the long-term reauthorization act will provide stability for the nation’s aviation community, support the advancement of new technologies, improve American competitiveness, and above all, ensure aviation safety.

Thank you again to today’s witnesses, and I look forward to our discussion.

Chair Larsen remarks as delivered can be found here.