May 15, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on “Status of the Boeing 737 MAX”

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: “Status of the Boeing 737 MAX.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling today’s oversight hearing on the “Status of the Boeing 737 MAX.” And, thank you to everyone for attending our first hearing on the Boeing 737 MAX.

I say first because I want to be clear: I am under no illusion that we will walk out of here today with all of the answers we are in search of.

The issues surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX are complex and far-reaching, and this Committee is still in the early stages of what will be a deliberate, robust investigation. This is the first in a series of hearings. As more information becomes available through the Committee’s oversight work, we will have additional hearings.

But here’s what we do know for sure right now.

The tragedies of the two fatal Boeing 737 MAX accidents in a span of five months have shocked the aviation industry and the flying public around the globe.

We lost 346 lives, people with families and loved ones whose lives will never be the same.

That includes the parents of 24-year-old Samya Stumo – who are here in the audience today.

Their daughter was flying from Ethiopia to Kenya for work when Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 went down.

They deserve answers and accountability, as does the general flying public.

That’s why I, along with Subcommittee Chair Larsen, launched an investigation immediately following the Ethiopian Airlines accident to conduct vigorous oversight of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing, to examine what went wrong with the 737 MAX, and how we can make certain it never happens again. We have also requested the Department of Transportation Inspector General examine the FAA’s certification process for the 737 MAX. We will not leave any stone unturned.

For 30 years, I have been a staunch safety advocate. My responsibility, this Committee’s responsibility, is to ensure the flying public it is safe. So please be assured, I plan to continue my decades long record of advancing safety at no expense. When changes need to be made, we will make them. As I’ve said before, the FAA exists to protect the public. It does not exist to promote or protect any part of the regulated industry.

Today, we will receive testimony from the National Transportation Safety Board on what we know to date about the two aviation accidents and ongoing investigations into their probable cause or causes; and an update from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on what it knows to date, the work being undertaken to audit and review issues surrounding the certification of the 737 MAX, and how it plans to make certain that this aircraft is safe to fly before it is ungrounded.

MCAS and AoA Sensors:

Since FAA grounded the fleet in March, we have learned that pilots were not made aware of this new system on the MAX, the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS.  We have also read troubling reports that certain safety features were installed but not operational, or optional and not required. 

Aviation is a system based on checks and cross-checks. How can an aircraft be certified if the failure of a single Angle of Attack (AoA) sensor results in MCAS activation, pulling the nose of a plane downward without pilot command? Where was the redundancy? If pilots were supposed to be the backstop for an AoA failure, why were pilots not informed the new system was on their plane and expected to know how to respond appropriately?

There are many questions we need to examine. 

Pilot Training: 

• In light of increased automation, are some of the safety assumptions made by the FAA and Boeing the right assumptions?

• Do we need to improve the process for determining and evaluating what pilots are trained on before they fly a new aircraft?

• Do we need to enhance international pilot training standards?

• What is the role of the FAA and manufacturer for certifying U.S. aircraft that we know will be flown by pilots with varying levels of training and experience?

Optional Safety Features:

• Who made the decision that AoA indicators or gauges – that could have given pilots an early and clear indication of what was happening to the plane – are optional? 

• Why did the AoA disagree light, which is standard on the previous 737s and supposedly on the 737 MAX, not work without the extra cost optional indicators?

FAA Certification/Organization Designation Authorization (ODA):

The agency’s stellar record and leadership is now being questioned.  Did Boeing design a system that was flawed, or was the FAA fully knowledgeable of the system?

Since the 1950s, the FAA has relied on a system of delegating certain certification authorities to manufacturers. And it has done so safely. 

However, for years, I have raised questions about how the FAA oversees the work of manufacturers that have been delegated these responsibilities.  And I am going to continue to ask them. 

• Does the FAA have sufficient resources to oversee the delegation program?

• Does the FAA have enough internal expertise to oversee the most sophisticated engineering work in the world?

• What firewalls exist between manufacturers and its FAA-designated representatives to ensure proper oversight and that there is no undue influence placed on them? 

We must get to the bottom of these questions and where precisely decisions were made and why. These decisions cost lives. They are tough questions and I plan to get answers. Our Committee’s investigation is going to be thoughtful and deliberate; we are going to get it right.

Returning the plane to service:

MAX aircraft are currently sitting idle. There is tremendous pressure to get the planes back up in the air. But before that happens, the FAA must make sure that every problem is identified and fixed, and every pilot that is certified to fly the plane knows everything there is to know and is properly trained.

Chair Larsen and I have called for a third-party review of what Boeing proposes to improve the design of the MCAS and what pilot training is deemed necessary. 

This will be critical to inform FAA’s decision-making as well as ensure public confidence in the process. And to that end, I am pleased that the FAA has launched a Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) to review the certification of the MAX as well as a Technical Advisory Board (TAB). 

Comprised of experts from the U.S. Air Force, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and NASA, the TAB has been tasked with conducting an independent review of Boeing’s proposed software change and its integration into the 737 MAX flight control system. 

Restoring public confidence and trust in the FAA’s decision-making and in the safety of Boeing’s airplanes will be critical to the restoration of the MAX to revenue service.

The world is watching, and the FAA and Boeing must get it right. This third party review panel, with independent expertise, will help to ensure that the FAA has all the information needed to make its decision.

Nearly 12 million people fly each day around the world, and many on U.S.-certified aircraft. We must ensure that safety is the top priority at every turn – for manufacturers, suppliers, airlines, the FAA, and all involved in the aviation industry.

Again, this will be the first in a series of hearings. I assure you that we are monitoring the FAA’s decisions at every turn, and we will go as far as the investigation takes us. 

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 discussion on the “Status of the Boeing 737 MAX.”

346 people died in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash near Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the Lion Air Flight 610 crash en route to Jakarta, Indonesia. 

Congress has an obligation to the traveling public and the victims of these accidents and their families to ensure the safety of air travel.

If the public doesn’t feel safe about flying then they won’t fly; if they don’t fly, airlines don’t need to buy airplanes; if they don’t need to buy airplanes, then airplanes don’t need to be built; and if there is no need to build the airplanes, then there will be no jobs.

Therefore, the foundation of the U.S. aviation system is safety.

This Committee will continue to maintain safety as its guiding principle and will use tools at its disposal to reduce the likelihood of tragedies like these from happening again.

T&I Committee Efforts

I will start by updating the Subcommittee Members on the Committee’s work to date.

Chair DeFazio and I continue to engage with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Boeing, pilots and aviation stakeholders about these accidents.

First, on March 19, Chair DeFazio and I requested the Department of Transportation Inspector General (DOT IG) assess the FAA’s approach to certifying the Boeing 737 MAX.

Second, the Committee’s oversight and investigations team continues to work with the FAA and Boeing on the records requests Chair DeFazio and I sent on the certification of the 737 MAX.

Third, the Committee sent a separate, bipartisan DOT IG request to evaluate aircraft cockpit automation and international pilot training standards.

Fourth, following a request from Chair DeFazio and I for a third-party review of the certification of Boeing’s anticipated 737 MAX software update and related training, the FAA established a Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) and a Technical Advisory Board (TAB).

The JATR’s independent review will ensure thorough oversight of the process and rebuild public confidence that the United States is the global standard in aviation safety.

 In addition, the TAB, composed of the U.S. Air Force, the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and NASA, will provide an independent review of the proposed software change and integration into the MAX flight control system.

I encourage all Members to personally continue monitoring this situation.

Staff is available for any questions you may have surrounding the investigation and can provide you with updates as they become available.

What I Hope to Hear from Witnesses

Acting Administrator Elwell and Chairman Sumwalt, the Subcommittee understands certain information about the accidents cannot be publicly discussed at this point because the investigations are ongoing.

However, there is still important information this Subcommittee can learn in today’s hearing.

For instance, Mr. Elwell, I look forward to hearing more about the FAA’s decision-making regarding the certification of the 737 MAX.

I would like you to clarify the ODA process, as well as the agency’s role in determining risk assessments assigned to key safety features on the aircraft, most notably, the Angle of Attack (AOA) sensors and Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), and whether these features should be designated as safety critical.

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported an internal FAA review concluded the agency failed to perform proper oversight of the certification of the MCAS system. If true, the ODA program is not working as Congress intended. 

I would also like to hear more about the FAA’s role in the development of associated pilot training for the 737 MAX, including opportunities for input from pilots and engagement with Boeing on the related flight manuals.

Additionally, I am interested in the JATR and TAB’s future processes and how the work of these two groups aligns with the recently established Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee, as mandated under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

Finally, I would like to hear what steps the FAA will take between now and when the Boeing 737 MAX is permitted to fly again.

Administrator Elwell, the FAA has a credibility problem. The FAA needs to fix its credibility problem.

This Committee will work with the FAA as it rebuilds public and international confidence in its decisions, but our job is oversight and the Committee will continue to take this role seriously.

Chairman Sumwalt, I look forward to learning more about the NTSB’s collaboration with the foreign investigation authorities and your insights on the preliminary reports for the JT610 and ET302 accidents.

Next Steps 

Congress must find answers to what happened surrounding these two accidents and ensure the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX for the sake of the flying public.

The FAA must take steps to restore public confidence in its ability to maintain the safest aerospace system in the world.

Today’s hearing comes at the beginning of the Committee’s investigative process and is the first in what will be a series of hearings on the 737 MAX.

The Committee will continue its thorough investigation until it fully understands all the issues surrounding the 737 MAX accidents.

The Committee will not hesitate to act to ensure the safety of the U.S. aviation system.

I will continue to work with Chair DeFazio throughout this process as well as Subcommittee members, FAA, NTSB, Boeing, aviation stakeholders and families of victims.

Thank you again to today’s witnesses and I look forward to hearing you address the issues I outlined in my opening statement.

Chair Larsen remarks as delivered can be found here.