July 17, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on “State of Aviation Safety”

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: “State of Aviation Safety.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling today’s hearing on aviation safety.

Ensuring the safety of our nation’s transportation systems is the most important job of this Committee, and today we will hear about many areas in which safety needs to be improved. 

Although fatal commercial aviation accidents in the United States have fallen by 95 percent since 1997, we must do better.  In the span of five months, 346 lives were tragically lost abroad in the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents, both involving U.S.-manufactured aircraft. That is why it is fitting that we will begin today’s hearing with testimony offered on behalf of the families of those whose lives were lost on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. 

To that end, I would like to welcome Mr. Paul Njoroge and Mr. Michael Stumo. 

It is important this Committee and the public hear from those whose lives have been forever altered by these accidents. I know that Chair Larsen will introduce you both in just a moment, but I wanted to express my heartfelt condolences for your loss. Thank you for being here on behalf of the families of those who died on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. I sincerely admire your bravery and appreciate your advocacy before Congress.

Please know that for decades I have been a staunch safety advocate, and have time and time again opposed the “tombstone mentality” in transportation. Meaning, we cannot afford to wait for accidents to occur to make travel and our transportation system safer, across all modes. 

As Chairman, I will always remain vigilant and make certain the Committee conducts vigorous oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the aviation industry, and is prepared to respond when needed to protect the safety of our airspace, its users, and those on the ground. And our work extends across borders; we must ensure the safety and integrity of products designed and made in the United States to be shared with those around the world.

So as the investigations into the probable cause or causes of the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and Lion Air flight 610 accidents continue, and this Committee continues examining the role of the FAA’s oversight, certification, and delegation processes in these events, we cannot and must not stop there. 

Twenty-three years ago today I (along with Congressman Lipinski’s father) introduced a bill that would strip the FAA’s authority to “promote” the industry. It is also 23 years ago to the day that TWA flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic killing all 230 crew and passengers onboard. 

I said then, and I will say it now, that the FAA’s primary mission must be to ensure the safety of aviation – our skies, planes, crews and the flying public. My bill became law, but it unfortunately took a tragic accident and loss of lives. I think it is worth noting that this is something that the Committee is investigating now. As a critical safety regulator, the FAA must not promote the industry it oversees, but the recent events into the fatal MAX accidents on U.S.-certified aircraft call this into question: is FAA still playing a role to “promote”?

This Committee is committed to ensuring the highest level of aviation safety and will strive for zero deaths in air transportation. We must continuously explore ways to identify and address other safety challenges facing our aviation system.

To this end, just last year, we were able to enact the longest FAA reauthorization in decades that included dozens of provisions that will enhance aviation safety. We will have an opportunity today to hear from some stakeholders on what progress has been made – and where the FAA is falling short in meeting its statutory mandates.  

Some of these key safety provisions include a mandate that flight attendants receive a minimum of 10 hours of rest between duty periods and a requirement that the FAA review its cabin evacuation assumptions to ensure safe evacuation during an emergency.

Flight attendant rest: While pilots for U.S. commercial airlines must be provided a rest period of at least 10 consecutive hours preceding a flight duty period, the same is not true for flight attendants, despite their important safety duties.

The law requires the FAA to close this gap, ensuring flight attendant rest is on par with commercial airline pilots. However, the FAA has not yet implemented this mandate and doesn’t plan to take action until the spring of 2020 despite being directed to implement the provision more than eight months ago. While the FAA is not here to defend its delays today, we will bring the agency up very soon. As Chairman of this Committee, I will not sit by idly and watch the FAA fail to act.

Secondary barriers: Another key provision requires all newly manufactured aircraft to have a secondary cockpit barrier. I am pleased to hear that the FAA is interpreting this provision as Congress intended – in that it applies to every new plane rolling off the assembly line, and not just newly type-certificated aircraft as some in industry have proffered. We have learned during our investigation into the 737 MAX that seldom is a transport category aircraft given a new type-certificate. So it would not make sense to have this critical safety and security provision tied only to a new plane certified a decade from now. It must be apply to every plane that is manufactured. And while the FAA agrees with this interpretation, I am concerned that the agency is slow-walking this mandate. 

Our work does not stop here.  There were many critical issues – for which I have been advocating for years – that were not included or adequately addressed in last year’s law, such as the risks posed by lithium batteries. 

Current law foolishly prohibits the FAA from imposing regulations greater than the lowest common denominator of international guidelines unless there has been an accident. This is the perfect example of the “tombstone mentality” that we should not tolerate. 

If ignited, just eight lithium batteries at half-charge can bring down an airplane, according to the FAA’s own testing. In fact, I went up to the FAA Technical Center in New Jersey with the Committee earlier this year and saw first-hand what these batteries can do. You don’t need 800 pounds of lithium batteries to bring down a plane. You just need eight. I will not give up this fight until this prohibition is repealed. 

In addition, I have been concerned for years over the FAA’s lax oversight over overseas aircraft repair stations. Report after report from the Department of Transportation Inspector General has detailed deficiencies in FAA oversight and monitoring of foreign repair stations that continually perform more and more critical safety work on U.S.-registered aircraft.

Congress included in the 2012 and 2016 reauthorization laws requirements that the FAA issue rules requiring 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. However, to date, the FAA has failed to implement these important mandates. We will continue to explore ways to ensure parity between U.S. and foreign entities, which will enhance the overall safety of our system.  

I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about legislation that Chairman Larsen and I introduced earlier this year, H.R. 1108, the “Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019.” This bill would ensure all FAA programs function uninterrupted and that all FAA employees remain at work and paid during any future lapse in appropriations.

Our aviation system is the largest, busiest, and safest system in the world. I can say, without a doubt, that our system was weakened each day the FAA was shut down earlier this year—the safety; the security; and the overall health of U.S. aviation was put at risk. And unfortunately, the effects of the shutdown—the longest in U.S. history—will be felt for years to come.

The FAA plays too critical of a role in ensuring the safety of the traveling public to be shut down again, and it is our responsibility to make sure that nothing stalls the FAA’s safety efforts, particularly the failure of Congress to do its job. 

I will conclude by saying that there is nothing that this Committee does that is more important than its safety work. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses. Thank you and I yield back.

Chair DeFazio remarks as delivered can be found here.

Chair Larsen:

Good morning and thank you to today’s witnesses for joining the Subcommittee’s hearing on the “State of Aviation Safety.”

Recent tragic aviation incidents at home and abroad have shed new light on what is required to ensure the traveling public’s safety.

In addition, the integration of new entrants, such as drones, into the national airspace presents new safety and security challenges.

Last Congress, this Committee passed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, bipartisan legislation which set a solid foundation to improve the safety of the nation’s airports, pilots, crew and passengers.

Today’s hearing is an opportunity to get the public’s perspective on current risks and challenges facing our aviation system and necessary safety improvements.

The testimony will also help shape our priorities as we continue our investigation of the Boeing 737 MAX and oversight of the FAA’s the implementation of last year’s FAA reauthorization bill.

This fall, the Committee will discuss the implementation status of the FAA Reauthorization Act.

Later on during today’s hearing, the Subcommittee will hear from witnesses on the second panel, who are on the frontlines of aviation and are critical to ensuring the safety of U.S. aviation. Their testimony will help us prioritize issues for oversight on the legislation.

I look forward to hearing more from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the recommendations outlined in the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements for 2019–2020, particularly on Part 135 flight operations and ensuring the safe integration of new technologies.

As Congress works to improve the pipeline for the next generation of pilots, debate continues on the strong pilot training rules requiring 1,500 hours of flight time mandated after the Colgan crash.

Congress cannot undermine an airline safety rule simply to respond to the market forces of supply and demand.

If there is a pilot shortage, I am interested in the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA)’s thoughts on ways to address it without sacrificing safety.

Flight attendant fatigue is a pressing aviation safety issue. However, the FAA continues to delay the implementation of mandate requiring at least 10 consecutive hours of rest for flight attendants between duty periods.

I would like to hear more from the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) about the immediate and long-term impacts of this inaction.

As evidenced by recent events, the FAA’s certification process is critical to aviation safety. Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) can shed more light about the role safety inspectors and engineers in this process and improvements that are necessary to ensure the safety of U.S. aircraft.

Last week, Chair DeFazio, Vice Chair Davids, Congressmen Davis and Ferguson and I introduced the Fair and Open Skies Act, to prevent foreign air carriers from exploiting a “flag of convenience” to avoid the regulations of their home countries, or otherwise undermining labor standards.

I appreciate TWU’s, as well as ALPA and APFA’s, support of this bill and the Committee will hear more about the importance of maintaining strong labor protections on safety.

The issue of the 737 MAX is not just about stakeholders in the aviation industry.

This Committee is a public body and therefore has a responsibility to hear from those most impacted, which unfortunately includes at times of tragedy. 

On today’s first panel are Mr. Paul Njoroge and Mr. Michael Stumo, who both lost family in the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 (ET302) crash, which claimed the lives of 157 people.

Chair DeFazio and I asked Mr. Njoroge to testify today on behalf of the ET302 families and to give a voice to the 157 victims of that tragic accident.

Mr. Njoroge and Mr. Stumo, I cannot begin to imagine the immeasurable grief you and your families are experiencing.

On behalf of the entire Subcommittee, for Members here today and those who cannot join us, I extend our sincerest condolences to you and your family during this difficult time.

We appreciate your willingness to join our discussion on this important issue.

Your testimony is a crucial reminder of the international role the U.S. aviation system operates within. 

The crashes occurred on U.S.-made, assembled and regulated airplanes.

The FAA’s actions and this Committee’s efforts have implications for travel around the world.

A majority of victims of the ET302 and Lion Air JT610 crashes were not Americans, and therefore it is only right to hear from someone who can represent the global community impacted by these tragedies.

Thank you for your advocacy.

As always, this Subcommittee’s top priority is safety.

It is our job to provide the resources and oversight necessary to ensure the safety of the U.S. aviation system.

Again, thank you again to today’s witnesses and I look forward to your insights.

Chair Larsen remarks as delivered can be found here.