November 30, 2023

Ranking Members Larsen, Cohen Statements from Hearing on Perils of Delaying the FAA Reauthorization

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, “Turbulence Ahead: Consequences of Delaying a Long-Term FAA Bill.”

More information on the hearing can be found here.
Ranking Member Larsen:
Thank you, Chairman Graves, for calling today’s hearing to reinforce the need for a long-term, comprehensive FAA reauthorization.
The last few years have exacerbated ongoing challenges facing our aviation system. Congress has a responsibility to address these challenges to ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety and air transportation.
This Committee engaged in a thoughtful and holistic process to draft the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act earlier this year.
While there were certainly times when we disagreed, we put those issues to a vote, and we accepted the outcome of those votes.
And the final product has overwhelming bipartisan support, passing unanimously out of this Committee in June and passing the House floor in July by a vote of 351 to 69.
There is a need to act. Last February, a Boeing 767 cargo plane almost landed on a Boeing 737 passenger plane at Austin International Airport. Without the quick action by the cargo plane pilots, 131 lives could have been lost that day.
Similar near miss incidents have occurred at Philadelphia, Memphis, Miami, Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas.
As a result of the spike in these incidents, the FAA commissioned an independent Safety Review Team (or SRT) this past April to recommend ways to enhance the safety and reliability of the nation’s air traffic system.
Those recommendations, delivered earlier this month, validate much of what this Committee found as it engaged with stakeholders during its FAA Reauthorization process.
One of those conclusions bears highlighting today—“…the current erosion in the margin of safety in the [national airspace system] caused by the confluence of these challenges is rendering the current level of safety unsustainable.”
I commend newly appointed FAA Administrator Whitaker, as the FAA announced six steps it will take to start addressing the report’s findings, especially regarding air traffic controller hiring and training.
One of the most critical findings in the SRT report is that “the combined effect of irregular operations [caused] by [controller] staff shortages erodes the margin of safety in the NAS.” It then calls on all stakeholders in the aviation ecosystem to take immediate action to ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety.
The House-passed FAA Reauthorization is precisely what the report calls for, taking significant steps towards keeping the U.S. aviation system the safest in the world.
Section 314 specifically addresses the staffing challenges the SRT found, requiring the FAA to hire the maximum number of air traffic controllers and to adopt the most appropriate controller staffing model, as determined by an independent third party, to ensure our controller workforce accurately reflects the system’s growing needs.
Section 501 addresses another finding in the report by requiring the installation of surface surveillance technology at all medium and large hub airports to help prevent future runway incursions.
Section 221 addresses the report’s equipage findings by renewing the ADS-B rebate program to incentivize broader equipage of onboard safety technologies for all aircraft.
These are crucial reforms and this Committee did its work.
Safety goes hand-in-hand with other critical needs in air transportation also addressed in the House’s bill.
Last December, Courtney Edwards—a 34-year-old airport ramp worker and mother of three—was pulled into an Embraer E175 jet engine and killed while working the ramp at Montgomery Regional Airport. This tragic incident highlights the dangers our aviation workforce braves every day to ensure the safety of the traveling public.
The House-passed bill includes a ramp safety call to action and makes robust investments in preparing and protecting the next generation of pilots, maintenance technicians, manufacturing workers and other critical professions to support the rapidly evolving global aviation sector.
Just this week, a passenger in Miami allegedly assaulted and knocked a gate agent unconscious—causing a “significant amount of blood” and delaying the flight by several hours.
As unruly passengers continue to pose a threat to flight crews and other frontline workers, our bill protects workers by creating a task force to prevent assaults and mandating that airlines establish employee assault and response plans.
In recent years, flight cancellations and delays have shaken the flying public’s confidence in our aviation system. Recall last December’s meltdown that left thousands of passengers stranded and ruined many Americans’ holiday travel plans.
To get us back on the right course, the House bill requires airlines to create resiliency plans to help prevent mass flight disruptions, and to have policies to reimburse passengers for expenses incurred from these disruptions.
While preventing mass flight disruptions is one way to protect consumers, we must also do more to ensure all passengers can travel safely and with dignity.
Last week’s video appearing to show a wheelchair being intentionally mishandled in Miami made clear that more work is needed to ensure dignified travel for all Americans.
The House bill improves training for airline personnel and contractors on assisting travelers with disabilities and mobility devices and directs the DOT to create a roadmap for airlines to reduce damage to wheelchairs and mobility aids.
As the impacts of climate change are felt in communities nationwide, this bill makes groundbreaking investments in sustainability, including allowing federal funding for hydrogen and unleaded fuel infrastructure.
The bill also increases funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) from $3.35 billion to $4 billion annually, of which at least $150 million in discretionary funds—the largest portion that’s ever been required before—are to be used to support airport environmental and noise programs.
In conclusion, the current and future challenges facing the U.S. aviation system are significant. I believe we can meet them, but it requires urgent and decisive action by this Congress. The House did its job, the Committee did its job—congratulations on that.
I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses on the consequences of further delaying FAA Reauthorization.
And I look forward to conferencing soon with my Senate colleagues to get a long-term bill to the President’s desk.
Ranking Member Cohen:
Thank you. It’s great to be here with Chairman Graves for another Aviation Subcommittee hearing.
Earlier this year, we held four Subcommittee hearings and one full Committee hearing on FAA reauthorization, where we had the opportunity to examine and discuss various aviation priorities—from ensuring safety to improving the passenger experience, to general aviation and the safe integration of emerging technologies and more.
While we worked in a bipartisan way to pass our FAA reauthorization bill out of our full Committee and in the House—with overwhelming votes of support—we are here today because our colleagues in the other chamber have not made the same progress.
The Senate Commerce Committee’s markup on their FAA reauthorization bill has been in recess for more than five months, and while the House dealt with policy disagreements by voting on issues through regular order, the Senate remains at an impasse. 
Reauthorizing the FAA in a timely matter is vital to the continuity of the U.S. aviation industry and helps to ensure aviation safety, infrastructure, and workforce development programs remain top priorities at such a critical juncture.
By continuing to pass short term extensions, which we have already done once to extend the FAA’s authorities through December, and will likely have to do once more before the end of the year, we continue to perpetuate the outdated status quo that jeopardizes our global leadership in aviation.
The absence of a long-term FAA reauthorization is a disservice to the agency and its hardworking employees, the aviation industry, and the traveling public. Furthermore, it places the newly appointed FAA Administrator, Mr. Mike Whittaker, at a disadvantage as he aims to maintain aviation safety and ensure the efficiency of U.S. airspace.
Although extensions have temporarily worked in the past, the National Airspace System (NAS) has advanced to a point where such extensions fail to address systemic problems and new challenges, especially those that require significant regulatory and policy improvements to keep the U.S. on the cutting-edge of aerospace technology.
Further, the use of continual extensions not only creates uncertainty within the aviation industry, but often results in the delay of FAA-sponsored airport projects that are critical to improving airport infrastructure.
If not evident already, the overreliance on extensions for the FAA has proven detrimental and will result in the failure to address a litany of critical issues, including:

  • Safety concerns at airports, such as runway near-misses;
  • Safety management systems expansion;
  • Fostering technological advancements in the NAS; and
  • Insufficient investment in airports and NexGen technologies.

For these reasons and many more, the need to pass a long-term comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill is vital to the safety and continuity of U.S. aviation.
Our House-passed bill makes historic airport infrastructure investments, enhances aviation safety, protects consumers including those with disabilities, addresses environmental resiliency, ensures the safe operation and integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft, and improves the development of the U.S. aviation workforce, especially in minority communities.
Just last week, the independent Safety Review Team assembled by the FAA in response to multiple close calls at airports across the country issued a 52-page report calling on the FAA and Congress to address safety risks in our nation’s aviation system.
In the report, the safety group highlighted a multitude of issues such as staffing shortages among air traffic controllers and outdated technology.
As the Safety Review Team stated, “There are no easy short-term fixes to address many of these challenges. Addressing risk in the [NAS] requires the FAA, the administration, Congress and others across industry to work together collaboratively.”
I can think of no better place to start than by Congress sending our House-passed long-term reauthorization bill to the President’s desk.
Our bill preserves and enhances America’s aviation system, which is the world’s gold standard, and ensures a robust and vibrant future for U.S. aviation.
It contains hundreds of provisions that will benefit and improve our aviation system now, but the bill remains delayed while we wait on Senate action.
It is my hope that FAA extensions will be a thing of the past after this year. I encourage our Senate colleagues to work swiftly to pass their bill so that we can negotiate our differences in conference and move forward with a robust five-year reauthorization. 
I thank all the witnesses for being here today and look forward to today’s discussion.