June 19, 2019

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

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: Stakeholder Perspectives.”

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling our second hearing on the Boeing 737 MAX. Today’s hearing is an important next step in the Committee’s oversight work and will provide us, and the public, with a better understanding of the impacts recent events have had on the aviation community at large. I thank the witnesses who have joined us today.

For our first 737 MAX hearing last month, it was important for the Committee to hear from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) about the two tragic accidents involving the 737 MAX in Indonesia and Ethiopia, which claimed the lives of 346 people, and the ongoing investigations into their probable cause or causes.  

We learned a lot during that hearing, particularly regarding potential issues present in the FAA’s oversight, certification, and delegation processes. We also confirmed important details to help move our investigation forward, including:

  • The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS, was a factor in both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents.
  • MCAS, which can force the nose of the 737 MAX downward without pilot command, relied on information from a single angle of attack (AOA) sensor to activate.
  • The FAA Acting Administrator acknowledged that, to him, MCAS is a safety-critical system, yet the system could be triggered off a single point of failure.
  • Yet, when the 737 MAX was certified, it was decided that MCAS was not safety-critical and that pilots did not need training on the system before getting in the cockpit of a 737 MAX.
  • In fact, pilots did not even know the new system existed, or its potency, until after the first accident in late 2018. Yet pilots were expected to be able to respond during an MCAS event.

At that hearing, we also discussed how Boeing has designed 14 variations of the 737 since the original was certified in 1967. I would argue that the MAX is significantly different than the aircraft first certified in 1967, and we must look into whether there should be a cutoff point when the number of changes requires the FAA to treat a proposed aircraft design as a new plane altogether and perform an exhaustive review, nose to tail.

While last month’s hearing provided for a substantive discussion, we only scratched the surface; we did not get all of the answers we need.

And more questions and issues have arisen since that hearing, showing how challenging and protracted the many ongoing investigations, including this Committee’s own, may be.

For instance, we have learned that following Boeing’s discovery in 2017 that the AOA Disagree Alert feature in the 737 MAX was inoperable unless an airline also purchased optional equipment, the manufacturer did not disclose the defect to the FAA for more than a year. The Acting Administrator stated last month that he was concerned it took Boeing this long to inform the agency. I am concerned about this as well.

But after the hearing, I was even more troubled to learn that Boeing had not planned to fix this issue until 2020 and kept delivering new 737 MAX to its customers with this defect present. It took the Lion Air accident in Indonesia for Boeing to accelerate its timeline, while pilots had been flying the aircraft the whole time thinking their warning light would work, if necessary.

This is unacceptable, and that is why Chair Larsen and I sent letters to Boeing, United Technologies Corporation (who manufactured the AOA sensors and MCAS software for Boeing), and the FAA requesting a timeline and supporting documents related to when they became aware of this defect and when airline customers were notified.

As the Committee learns of issues like this, we will continue to take action as part of our investigation. And like you, we are also tracking the countless press reports on the 737 MAX each day. When issues are raised there, we are running them down. As I have said before, we will leave no stone unturned.

As part of this Committee’s investigation and oversight work, it was important to me that we also hear directly from impacted and frontline stakeholders about the issues surrounding the 737 MAX and what it will take for them to feel confident in the FAA’s review of Boeing’s proposed software fix and the aircraft’s safety overall before it returns to the skies.

I am pleased to have U.S. carriers, pilots, and flight attendants represented here today and believe each will bring an important and needed perspective to these issues. You fly or fly in these aircraft each day. You are charged with the enormous responsibility of ensuring the safety of the traveling public and I know you do not take the recent tragedies lightly. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, particularly with regard to what you believe Boeing and the FAA need to do next and how we restore public confidence in our systems and processes.

In addition, I am pleased that Captain Chesley (“Sully”) Sullenberger could join us today. A former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and commercial airline captain, “Sully” heroically landed an aircraft during an emergency in the middle of the Hudson River, saving more than 150 lives on board. While his name and brave actions are recognized in homes across the country, I am especially appreciative of his tireless advocacy since the “Miracle on the Hudson” to improve aviation safety. Thank you, Captain Sullenberger, for your service and for participating today.

The Committee’s investigation, which launched immediately following the Ethiopian Airlines accident, has proceeded steadily over the last several months. In addition to the ongoing Department of Transportation Inspector General examination of the FAA’s certification process for the 737 MAX that Chair Larsen and I requested, my staff has continued to meet with countless stakeholders to discuss the 737 MAX and relevant issues. They have also met with numerous whistleblowers on these topics, and will speak to anyone confidentially who has information they would like to share.

My staff has finally started to receive documents from both Boeing and the FAA that Chair Larsen and I requested on April 1st. My staff has begun reviewing those records and we expect Boeing and the FAA to continue to cooperate in providing the Committee with additional records on a rolling basis.

While the Committee continues its investigation, we will remain laser focused on actions taken by the FAA and Boeing to return the plane to service. We must ensure the safety of the Nation’s airspace and its users, as well as the products that the FAA certifies to be used around the globe. We want to make certain they get this right, and that this never happens again. 

I am committed to a deliberate and thorough review. We will not jump to conclusions. But if the facts lead us to a point where we can effect change, we will not hesitate to take legislative action.

I urge the FAA in particular to continue an open dialogue with U.S. aviation stakeholders, as well as foreign aviation regulators, as it works to deem the 737 MAX airworthy again. We, and the public, must be confident in the FAA’s decisions and feel that when we next board a 737 MAX, we are safe.

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

Today’s hearing is the second in a series investigating the tragic Boeing 737 MAX accidents.

The purpose of today’s hearing is to hear from the people who fly the airplanes and the people who fly in the airplanes. 

A total of 346 people died in the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents and their loved ones deserve answers.

The traveling public’s confidence in U.S. aviation is shaken. Congress, the administration and industry must restore confidence in air travel. 

The foundation of this Committee’s investigation into the Boeing 737 MAX is ensuring safety.

As I have said before, if the public does not 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 airplanes, then there will be no jobs in aviation.

Today’s hearing builds on the Committee’s ongoing investigation.

Safety will remain this Committee’s guiding principle. This Committee will use all tools to reduce the likelihood of future tragedies.

I want to start by updating the Subcommittee Members and the public on the Committee’s work since last month’s hearing.

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

Second, the Committee’s oversight and investigations team continues to work with the FAA and Boeing on securing records Chair DeFazio and I requested on the certification of the MAX in April.

More recently, Chair DeFazio and I recently wrote to Transportation Secretary Chao and FAA Acting Administrator Elwell expressing concerns about the slow pace of the FAA’s response to our records request. It is my expectation both will cooperate with the Committee’s investigation in a timely manner.

Third, Chair DeFazio and I also wrote to Boeing, United Technologies Corporation and the FAA requesting a timeline and supporting documents related to awareness of when the Angle of Attack (AOA) Disagree alert on some Boeing 737 MAX planes was defective, as well as when the groups notified airlines about this defect.

The Committee is aware of information suggesting Boeing decided in November 2017 to defer a software update to correct the AOA Disagree alert defect until 2020, three years after discovering the flaw, and only accelerated its timeline after the October 2018 Lion Air accident.

This information is deeply concerning, and the Committee must find out what Boeing knew, when the company knew it and who it informed.

I also have questions about the decision to not deem the AOA Disagree alert as safety critical. The information the Committee is requesting will help us better understand management decisions.

I encourage all Members of the Subcommittee to continue personally 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.

More than 300 Boeing 737 MAX planes have been grounded worldwide since the Ethiopian Airlines accident in March and more than 130 are parked. More than 4,500 orders for the 737 MAX worldwide remain unfilled since Boeing stopped delivery.

Today’s hearing is an opportunity to gather views and perspectives from key users of the aircraft, pilots, flight attendants, the airline industry and passengers on what the FAA, Boeing and airlines need to do before returning the 737 MAX to service.

This Committee is not here to make conclusions as to what caused these accidents.

As with any aviation accident, investigators must consider a multitude of factors, including aircraft design, aircraft maintenance, weather and human performance before making a final determination of probable cause or causes.

In the end, there will be a root cause and contributing factors.

Nevertheless, it is critical the public hear from frontline stakeholders as part of our oversight work.

Captain Carey and Captain Sullenberger, I look forward to hearing the pilot’s perspective on these accidents, the pilots’ role in the FAA’s certification process and associated pilot training.

Ms. Nelson, flight attendants are on the frontlines with passengers, and I am interested in hearing your thoughts on what must take place to restore the confidence of the flying public and help you perform your important work.

Ms. Pinkerton, I would like to hear more about the impact of the grounding on airlines, airlines’ engagement with the FAA and Boeing on certification of this aircraft and related “fixes” and next steps to ensure safety.

Mr. Babbitt, as you are a former FAA Administrator, I look forward to your thoughts on the importance of coordination of the international aviation community on this issue and how FAA can regain its credibility and restore the public’s trust.

I hope today’s testimonies will help this Committee better understand what is needed to restore the trust of the flying public and show this Committee’s commitment to safety by asking all the appropriate questions.

As Congress seeks answers surrounding the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, this Committee must also work to restore public confidence in the 737 MAX and the FAA’s mission to maintain the safety of U.S. aerospace.

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

I will continue to work with Chair DeFazio and my colleagues, FAA, NTSB, Boeing, aviation stakeholders and families of victims throughout this process.

Again, I want to thank today’s witnesses and I look forward to hearing your insights.

Chair Larsen remarks as delivered can be found here.