October 21, 2021

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on the FAA Implementation of the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act

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, “Three Years After Lion Air 610: FAA Implementation of the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.”

Videos of DeFazio and Larsen’s opening statements are here and here.

More information on the hearing can be found here.

Chair DeFazio:

Thank you, Chair Larsen, for calling today’s hearing on the FAA’s implementation of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act, an important set of reforms that we enacted last year in response to two air disasters that revealed serious lapses in our aviation safety system.

Those two crashes of Boeing 737 MAX airplanes in 2018 and 2019, which claimed the lives of 346 sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, were not only senseless tragedies but also a national embarrassment.

The crashes, that of Lion Air 610 and Ethiopian Airlines 302, were the culmination of a series of failures, negligent acts and omissions, and allegedly criminal acts within The Boeing Company, as well as dangerous inadequacies in the FAA’s process for certifying new airplanes. It is clear that Boeing needed thorough regulation and strict oversight, but its regulator could not provide enough of either, despite the efforts of numerous dedicated civil servants.

The litany of mistakes resulted in the certification of a passenger airliner with a fatal flaw: a system called the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system, or MCAS, that activated erroneously and pushed the two accident airplanes into unrecoverable dives. Not even a Boeing test pilot, in a simulator, could recover the plane when MCAS erroneously activated—much less standard airline pilots who were unaware the system even existed.

The committee’s 18-month-long investigation, as well as other evaluations by two panels of aviation safety experts in the United States and our own National Transportation Safety Board; investigations by national safety authorities in Ethiopia and Indonesia; and even press reports established that:

  • MCAS, as a safety-critical system, didn’t receive the attention from FAA engineers and pilots that it should have received;
  • Boeing should not have received authority from the FAA to conclude independently that erroneous MCAS activation would not result in a crash, and the FAA should have assumed responsibility for thoroughly evaluating MCAS;
  • At least one Boeing employee in a position of responsibility on the 737 MAX program lied to airlines and the FAA about MCAS and was indicted last week on six counts of fraud;
  • Both Boeing and the FAA failed to fully appreciate that an erroneous reading from a small, fragile, needle-like instrument protruding from the side of the forward fuselage, called an AOA sensor, could cause MCAS to send the airplane into an unrecoverable dive; and
  • Many other incredible lapses with Boeing’s safety culture and the FAA’s inability to detect and correct those problems before they jeopardized public safety.

The bill we enacted last winter addresses these issues comprehensively.

Based on an update and documents provided to committee staff, I am encouraged that the FAA is making progress in implementing these reforms, and I commend Administrator Dickson for his attention to the urgent need for their swift implementation. I hope he will continue to place particular emphasis on this work, because Boeing’s next aircraft—the 777X—is already in flight tests.

Moreover, Boeing is reportedly considering development of the 737 MAX’s successor despite the fact that the 787 program has been beset by manufacturing errors, a months-long cessation of deliveries, and FAA fines against Boeing for Boeing employees harassing and placing undue pressure on their colleagues who are in charge of ensuring compliance with safety requirements. So, Administrator Dickson, I hope you will continue implementing this legislation with urgency because its necessity is clear.

That said, I must register my disapproval of the FAA’s delay in implementing two explicit mandates from the 2018 FAA reauthorization, which have languished in the bureaucratic process despite a clear safety imperative for both.

The first is the requirement that flight attendants receive at least 10 hours of rest between duty periods. The bill’s language left no room for discretion: The FAA was to issue a final rule by November 4, 2018, in accordance with the parameters we laid out in that mandate. Nearly three years later, we’ve yet to see a final rule.

The second is the requirement for the installation of secondary flight deck barriers on all newly manufactured airliners. The deadline passed two years ago, on October 5, 2019. Still, no order or final rule.

Administrator Dickson, I acknowledge that these mandates were enacted before your tenure began at the FAA. But the delay in complying with the letter of the law is completely unacceptable. I want an update from you on the status of these safety-critical regulations, and I want your commitment to doing whatever is necessary within your authority to meet the will of Congress in the shortest possible time.

I again thank Chair Larsen for calling this hearing, and I look forward to hearing from Administrator Dickson. I yield back.

Chair Larsen:

Good morning and welcome to today’s Aviation Subcommittee hearing titled “Three Years After Lion Air 610: FAA Implementation of the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.”

Nearly three years ago, on October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea.

Less than six months later, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed near Addis Ababa.

These two tragedies ended the lives of 346 people.  

Victims included parents, children, teachers, friends and humanitarians who deserved to arrive safely at their destinations, but never did.

For nearly two years, victims’ families tirelessly lent their support to necessary reforms to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) certification process to reduce the likelihood other families would experience such devastating loss.

I want to acknowledge and thank the victims’ families for your presence and your tireless advocacy.

You and your loved ones remain at the forefront as this Committee oversees implementation of aircraft certification reform.

I also want to acknowledge the hardworking women and men who go to work each day at the Boeing plant in Everett and are proud of the product they design, assemble and build.

They are distraught this same product contributed to the deaths of so many and the grief of so many others.

This hearing and this legislation are not about just one aircraft.

They are about making air travel safer, restoring confidence in the aviation industry and ensuring U.S. aviation remains the global gold standard in terms of safety.

In an historic effort, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee conducted a nearly two-year investigation into the design, development and certification of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The Committee’s thorough investigation uncovered flawed management decisions and inadequate organizational structures at Boeing and FAA that were necessary to confront.

Last December, the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act was signed into law to restore the integrity of the FAA’s aircraft certification process and make flight safer.

This bipartisan legislation is built upon the lessons learned from the Committee’s investigation and the recommendations of the independent Technical Advisory Board, Joint Authorities Technical Review and other key entities.

Among its provisions, the new law will:

  • Improve aviation safety culture, by requiring aircraft and aerospace manufacturers to adopt safety management systems;
  • Enhance transparency and accountability, by requiring the disclosure of certain safety-critical information related to an aircraft to the FAA;
  • Address undue pressure on employees acting on behalf of the FAA, for example, extending airline whistleblower protections to U.S. aviation manufacturing employees; and
  • Require sufficient evaluation of human factors in the certification process to ensure flight crews can do their jobs safely and efficiently.

As with any comprehensive legislation designed to reform a complicated system like the certification of aircraft, implementation should not be expected to occur overnight.

However, the legislation lays out specific timelines for actions by FAA to take place.

FAA has provided updates on some of these actions but has not yet specific details on progress for many of the requirements.

Today’s hearing is an opportunity for this Subcommittee to hear from the FAA on the status of these reforms, how the agency plans to implement them, and identify any potential causes for delay.

I am pleased to welcome today’s witness, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who has served in this role since August of 2019.

Administrator Dickson, the past few years have been a tumultuous time in the agency’s history.

I appreciate your and your team’s commitment to the implementation of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act and your personal involvement in the review of the 737 MAX.

While I am encouraged by the agency’s progress, clearly there is much more work to do.

The United States is the leader in global aviation, and the FAA’s actions in the U.S. have profound implications for passenger air travel around the world.

It is vital this subcommittee carry out its responsibility to oversee the FAA’s implementation of the critical reforms enacted under the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.

I look forward to today’s discussion on how to best support the FAA’s ongoing work to ensure the safety of the traveling public.