March 09, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Cohen Statements from FAA Reauthorization Hearing on General Aviation

Washington, D.C. — The following are opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, from Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Rick Larsen (D-WA) and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Aviation Steve Cohen (D-TN), during today’s hearing titled, “FAA Reauthorization: Securing the Future of General Aviation.” 

Video of Larsen’s and Cohen’s opening statement can be found here and here

More information on the hearing can be found here.
Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chairman Graves, for calling today’s FAA Reauthorization hearing on “Securing the Future of General Aviation.”
In my home state of Washington and across the country, general aviation (GA) means well-paying jobs and is key to long-term economic growth. 
A recent study found the general aviation industry supported an estimated $247 billion in economic output and 1.2 million jobs in the U.S. in 2018.
In terms of fleet size, the active general aviation fleet, is projected to increase from its 2021 level of more than 204,000 aircraft to nearly 209,000 by 2042.
This means more manufacturing, maintenance and flight crew training will be needed, resulting in additional opportunities for growth in communities with general aviation airports.
First and foremost, we must continue to champion safety as our top priority. 
Over the past few decades, general aviation has become significantly safer—with the number of fatal and nonfatal accidents declining since 2000.
However, there is still significant room for improvement as general aviation has the highest aviation accident rate within civil aviation. 
In 2021, the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) found that most aviation fatalities in 2020 took place during general aviation operations, where 332 people were killed; compared to zero fatal accidents involving Part 121 air carriers in that same year. 
With new technologies available for general aviation aircraft, the expansion of analytical tools to study safety trends and patterns, and improved training, we can and will do better.
General aviation also improves equity and access to the National Airspace System (NAS) for people across the country.
Many small and rural communities do not have access to commercial service airports or regularly scheduled air service.
For instance, 82% of communities in Alaska are only accessible via air; yet only a handful have regularly scheduled commercial flights. 
General aviation and charter services provide these communities with lifelines to critical resources and services. 
To that end, Congress specifically targeted general aviation in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investing $500 million annually over 5 years for general aviation and non-primary airports and $300 million for contract towers, creating jobs and increasing mobility. 

These types of investments are critical to ensuring that the NAS is available to all Americans.
Unfortunately, as the NAS expands, we must also be cognizant of its consequences. 
Certain piston-powered general aviation aircraft still use Avgas which contains lead—a neurotoxin that can be particularly detrimental to children.
While general aviation is the only transportation mode still using leaded fuel, we must ensure the transition to newly available unleaded alternatives is a safe and thoughtful one. 
To expedite this transition, the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions (EAGLE) Initiative was launched in February 2022.
This federal and industry initiative aims to transition general aviation completely to unleaded fuel by 2030. 
The general aviation sector is also committed to addressing the industry’s contributions to climate change. 
In recent years, the development of electric and hybrid-powered aircraft have been among the efforts to reduce carbon and noise emissions.
For example, Arlington Municipal Airport in my hometown of Arlington, Washington, is home to Eviation, an aviation company which is developing the nine-seat, all-electric “Alice” aircraft.
The general aviation industry is also working to adopt alternative fuel sources to reduce carbon emissions, such as the development and distribution of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
To support sustainable growth of the general aviation sector, Congress must create a regulatory framework that prioritizes safety, invests in the necessary infrastructure and helps to make communities globally competitive well into the 2050s and beyond. 
While the future of U.S. aviation remains bright, general aviation still faces several challenges that must be addressed.
Today’s witnesses will provide much needed insight on the industry’s priorities and how Congress can be a better partner in these efforts. 
Thank you, and I look forward to tackling these issues together.
Ranking Member Cohen:
As we kick off our first Aviation Subcommittee hearing and continue our efforts to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the challenges facing the general aviation community.
As we’ve heard from our esteemed Chairman, Mr. Sam Graves, our FAA reauthorization bill will have the first-ever general aviation title, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on ways our Committee can work with you on these important issues.
General aviation is an important sector of our aviation system spanning from sport and recreational aviation to medical transport to business travel to aerial firefighting and more.
According to the FAA, the United States has the largest and most diverse general aviation community in the world with more than 220,000 active aircraft.
Moreover, general aviation supports to over 1.2 million jobs and is estimated to generate nearly $250 billion dollars in economic output.
It is encouraging that general aviation has become significantly safer over the past four decades with the number of fatal and nonfatal accidents declining since 2000.
When we held a hearing on this topic in July 2022, I appreciated hearing from National Transportation Safety Board, Chair Jennifer Homendy.
As she noted, however, the vast majority of the NTSB’s aviation investigations involve general aviation accidents, and the subsequent new regulations derived from the NTSB’s recommendations continue to contribute to improved aviation safety.
Since 2000, the NTSB has issued 294 safety recommendations addressing issues related to non-commercial general aviation operations. Of the 296 recommendations, 231 have been closed, while 63 recommendations remain open.
As we’ll hear today, it is important that we all work together to maintain the positive trend in general aviation and continue to increase safety for all our general aviation users.
I also look forward to discussing ways in which we can continue to work together to transition towards an unleaded future.
Aviation gasoline, or avgas, remains one of the only transportation fuels in the United States to contain lead, with more than 222,600 registered piston-engine aircraft that can operate on leaded avgas.
The use of leaded avgas continues to remain a significant public health concern. It has been well documented by medical institutions and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that lead exposure in children can lead to decreased cognitive performance and potentially lead to long-term learning and behavioral problems.
In the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, we directed the National Academies of Science to study aviation gasoline, or avgas, and how to transition away from it.
In its 2021 report, the National Academies noted that there is currently “no [singular], certain solution to the aviation lead problem, and therefore a multi- pathway mitigation approach offers the greatest potential for tangible and sustained progress.”
I applaud current efforts to research and develop alternative fuels such as the Eliminate Aviation Gasoline Lead Emissions or EAGLE initiative and recognize it will take a collaborative effort to move toward the safe transition towards unleaded fuel.
As we’ll hear today, there are several issues that need our attention as we work on our next FAA reauthorization bill, and I appreciate hearing the perspectives of important voices in our general aviation community.