February 13, 2019

Chairs DeFazio, Larsen Statements from Hearing on, "Putting U.S. Aviation at Risk: The Impacts of The Shutdown"

 Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during today’s hearing titled: "Putting U.S. Aviation at Risk: The Impacts of The Shutdown." Remarks as delivered can be found here.

Thank you, Chairman Larsen, for calling today's hearing on how the President's recent shutdown of the Federal Government affected the operations and workforce of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as well as the U.S. aviation system at large. I am sad that the Committee even needs to host a hearing on this topic, as the Government should not have been shut down to begin with, particularly over a policy dispute.

First and foremost, I must express my gratitude to the air traffic controllers, aviation safety inspectors and technicians, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers, and the other critical aviation safety and security professionals who worked for 35 days to keep the traveling public safe and secure, without a paycheck. I thank them for their service, and I am sorry that they and their families were subjected to the unnecessary stress and burden of a shutdown. I vow to do what I can to help make sure this never happens again.

In addition to the employees who performed their critical duties throughout the shutdown, there were thousands of other FAA employees who were simply furloughed—more than 30 percent of the entire agency. This completely froze work on certain aircraft and airmen certification activities, important aviation safety rulemakings, the implementation of NextGen programs, and the integration of drones into U.S. airspace, among other things.

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—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 effects will be particularly felt by the FAA workforce.

Take air traffic controllers, for example, who are charged with keeping planes at a safe distance and ensuring the safety of nearly 30 million square miles of airspace day in, day out. More than 14,000 of them worked during the shutdown without pay, and we saw how it only took six sick controllers to cause immense air traffic disruption in the Northeast, and ripple effects across the Nation, to make Trump realize the vulnerability of our aviation system and finally end his shutdown.

Controller staffing levels at our air traffic facilities are already at a 30-year low, due in part to the 2013 Government shutdown, which lasted half the time of this most recent one. During the shutdown, the FAA controller training center in Oklahoma City was closed, delaying a pipeline of new critical aviation safety employees when we need them most. Add to this the fact that nearly 20 percent of current certified controllers are eligible to retire, and after working for more than a month without pay over the holidays, many controllers have no incentive to stick around and train the next generation of controllers. Who could blame them?

In addition to controllers, furloughs in the FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety may have created gaps in aviation safety that put pilots, flight attendants, and all of us who travel by air at risk. Included in those furloughed were thousands of FAA safety personnel responsible for providing critical oversight of the U.S. aviation industry, including airlines, manufacturers, pilots, flight instructors, and aircraft repair stations in the United States and around the world.

While the Trump administration recalled a portion of these furloughed employees as the shutdown lingered to perform certain safety inspections, oversight, and investigations, this did not occur for two weeks. Of course, these employees reported for duty, but like controllers, received no paycheck for their important work.

But it was not just the FAA workforce that felt the effects of the shutdown; the U.S. aviation industry at large – which has a $1.5 trillion impact on the economy – was also harmed:

  • The shutdown prevented U.S. manufacturers from getting their aircraft and aviation products to market, affecting their ability to compete globally.
  • Small aviation businesses were unable to get the FAA approvals necessary to perform on their contracts.
  • Airlines were impacted by decreased passenger levels, in addition to being unable to add new aircraft to their fleets to provide additional service to passengers and to train and upgrade their prospective pilots.
  • The shutdown stopped the development and rollout of NextGen programs and technologies that seek to modernize the National Airspace System, delaying improvements that will make the system safer and more efficient.
  • The shutdown also put on hold already past-due FAA aviation rulemakings that will enhance the safety of our airspace and users of the system.

The list goes on and on. And you can see through these examples just how important of a role our aviation system plays in American life. This is unacceptable and must not happen again.

That is why last week, I, along with Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Larsen, introduced legislation, the "Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019," that would ensure all FAA programs function uninterrupted and that all FAA employees remain at work and paid during any future lapse in appropriations.

Under this legislation, a shutdown would authorize the agency to draw from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund during a shutdown, with no General Fund contributions, to continue all operations, programs, and activities, at current funding levels.

The users of the National Airspace System currently pay more than enough needed for the FAA and the entire system to function through taxes on their airline tickets and aviation fuel, among other things. In fact, the current uncommitted balance in the Trust Fund is approximately $6 billion. The Congressional Budget Office projects that, assuming current law remains in place and FAA spending grows with inflation, the uncommitted balance of the Trust Fund alone will swell to more than $47 billion by 2029. There is no financial reason that the system cannot continue to function safely, efficiently, and without interruption when there is a shutdown.

I am pleased that this is a bipartisan bill, with 40 co-sponsors and counting, and the overwhelming support of more than 35 organizations, representing all segments of the U.S. aviation industry. I hope this Committee and the aviation community will join us in putting politics aside and getting this bill enacted as soon as possible. The FAA plays too critical of a role in ensuring the safety of the traveling public to be shut down again.

Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back my time.

The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) during today’s hearing titled: "Putting U.S. Aviation at Risk: The Impacts of The Shutdown." Remarks as delivered can be found here.


Good morning and thank you to today’s witnesses for joining the first Aviation Subcommittee hearing of the 116th Congress.

Nineteen days ago, the partial government shutdown ended, but left significant consequences to the U.S. aviation workforce, industry and economy in its wake.

We have a forward-looking aviation and aerospace agenda for this Congress. 

In fact, it was my intention for the first hearing of this Subcommittee to begin exploring an agenda that included: ensuring aviation safety, fostering innovation in U.S. airspace, improving U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace; and enhancing the air travel experience for passengers.

This agenda is still my agenda, and this Subcommittee will continue to pursue it.

However, the recent shutdown shed new light on its impacts on the aviation industry and workforce.

But the roots of this hearing go back to the 2013 shutdown under a Democratic Administration when FAA employees were furloughed, and air traffic controllers worked without pay. 

Even then, we were trying to find a way to shield this most critical part of the government from future shutdowns.

The purpose of this hearing, then, is two-fold. 

First, I want to ensure this Subcommittee creates the public record of shutdown impacts on the aviation and aerospace industry.

The panel assembled here today is in the best position to explain these impacts.

I would note that the shutdown has delayed this Subcommittee’s work as well. FAA furloughs have delayed implementation of last year’s FAA authorization, which in turn delays the oversight mission of this Subcommittee.

The shutdown has also delayed planning for this Subcommittee’s trip to the FAA Technical Center to observe their critical research to improve the safety of the National Airspace.

The second purpose of this hearing is to build the case for H.R. 1108, the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019. 

I want to ensure the FAA has the resources and funding stability needed to preserve the safety of the Nation’s aviation system.

Throughout the most recent shutdown, I met with the dedicated women and men of the aviation workforce and heard about the harmful impacts the shutdown had on their lives.

One constituent from Bellingham, Washington shared with me that her brother, an air traffic controller, worked more than 60 hours a week, without pay, during the shutdown. Her brother faced severe mental and physical stress wondering when his next paycheck would come.

Aerospace companies in Northwest Washington let me know they feared they would need to suspend production.

Local aviation safety personnel received pay stubs for $0.

And another air traffic controller with whom I met had to dip into her children’s college savings to get by.

During the shutdown, thousands of air traffic controllers, engineers, technicians and critical safety personnel were working without pay.

U.S. aviation is the gold standard of flight because of these skilled individuals. Their work ensures the safety of the traveling public and efficiency of the U.S. airspace.

As I noted, the FAA was unable to begin implementation of Congressional mandates in the FAA Reauthorization, such as requiring ten hours of rest for flight attendants, further integrating new users into the airspace and addressing sexual harassment of employees, passengers and crew.

Furloughed FAA inspectors were unable to approve new aircraft, aviation products and infrastructure, hindering U.S. global competitiveness.

The FAA’s work on streamlining the certification process for aviation and aerospace products, came to a halt.

No new Airport Improvement Program grants could be issued, hurting projects to modernize and maintain airports.

As the full Committee heard last week, federal aviation infrastructure investment falls far short of growing needs. 

Washington state alone needs over $190 billion in infrastructure investments, with aviation projects requiring $12.6 billion.

Congress must do what it can to ensure the FAA, its employees and the U.S. aviation economy are protected from another government shutdown. 

To this end, Committee Chair DeFazio and I introduced legislation that authorizes the FAA to continue to draw from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) during a funding lapse and operate at current funding levels with no Congressional action required.

The partial government shutdown unnecessarily hurt American families and jeopardized the safety of the largest, busiest and most complex airspace system in the world.

To use a metaphor, the lights must stay on at runways across the United States.   

I appreciate the witnesses for taking the time to join today’s discussion and for your work during the shutdown.

I look forward to hearing more about the impacts on your members, and how Congress can support you in the future.

It is my hope that with this hearing, this Subcommittee will have made its case that the shutdown impacts are harmful to the economy and that the Aviation Funding Stability Act is the mechanism to shield the FAA and the aviation and aerospace economy from the detrimental impacts of future shutdowns.

And I look forward to getting this Subcommittee back to its forward-looking agenda of ensuring aviation safety, fostering innovation in U.S. airspace, improving U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace, and enhancing the air travel experience for passengers.