February 06, 2024

Ranking Members Larsen, Cohen Statements from Hearing on the State of American Aviation with FAA Administrator

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, “The State of American Aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Video of Larsen’s and Cohen’s opening statements 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 hearing on the “State of American Aviation and the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Administrator Whitaker, thank you for joining us today. We have plenty to discuss and I look forward to your testimony.

This hearing comes at a critical time.

First, we must review the implementation of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization, which expired last September. Second, we must continue to push for the passage of a comprehensive long-term 2023 FAA reauthorization, which the House passed last July. Finally, we must examine the problems the recent 737 MAX 9 accident exposed.  

Safety must always be this Committee’s top priority.

America’s aviation system is responsible for safely transporting hundreds of millions of passengers each year without fear of harm or injury.

Americans must have full confidence in our aviation system—but that confidence must be justified.

This Committee must ensure the FAA has the resources and tools it needs to effectively conduct its investigations, audits and enforcement actions.

As always, we must remain vigilant to ensure that the likelihood of something like this accident happening is decreased substantially.

The January 5, 737 MAX 9 accident was terrifying to all on board, but thanks to the calm and professional actions of the flight crew, everyone landed safely.

I fully support, as does this Committee, the FAA’s decisive response to this accident, which included: grounding the affected 737 MAX 9 fleet; a separate investigation into whether Boeing delivered a non-compliant aircraft to its customer; an overarching audit of Boeing’s 737 MAX production lines and its suppliers; and a prohibition on increasing Boeing’s 737 MAX production rate, until its quality control issues are resolved.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time we’ve seen aircraft quality control issues in recent history.

In May 2021, then Chair DeFazio and I wrote to the Department of Transportation, FAA, and Boeing with concerns about no less than nine reports of quality control issues at Boeing production facilities.

Since then, there have been dozens more reports of similar issues, leading to emergency fixes and delays in production.

The safety culture of any organization flows from the top, and I urge Boeing leadership to take time now to examine the culture they’ve instilled and make the necessary improvements.

I also look forward to the implementation of the 2020 Certification Reform bill, including the recommendations from the Boeing safety culture review.

Boeing has some of the most skilled, hard-working and technically proficient workers in the world, and they depend on their leadership to instill the right policies so they can effectively do their jobs.

These dedicated women and men who work at Boeing plants, deserve answers; the flying public deserves answers.

I look forward to the NTSB’s preliminary report and the findings of the FAA’s investigations.

And I will continue to work with Chair Sam Graves, Chair Garret Graves, and Ranking Member Cohen to take any potential legislative or oversight actions needed to ensure the safety of our skies.

As the Committee continues its oversight of the MAX 9 accident response, we cannot forget our other responsibilities.

We passed an FAA bill in July. It passed 351 to 69. We are now awaiting Senate action. Our bill created a framework to ensure a safer, cleaner, greener, more innovative and accessible U.S. aviation system.

There are numerous safety gaps to be addressed since the last authorization in 2018, several of which were enumerated in the recent NAS (National Airspace System) Safety Review Team report.

For instance, to address air traffic controller workforce shortages, the House bill requires the FAA to hire the maximum number of controllers and to adopt the most appropriate staffing model to meet the system’s growing needs.

The House bill also requires installation of surface surveillance and detection technology at all medium and large hub airports to help prevent future runway incursions.

Administrator Whitaker, I look forward to hearing your takeaways from the NAS Safety Review Team report and what the FAA is doing to implement its recommendations.

We must also do more to ensure all passengers can travel safely and with dignity.

The House bill improves training for airline personnel and contractors on assisting travelers with disabilities and mobility devices and directs the DOT to reduce damage to wheelchairs and mobility aids.

Administrator Whitaker—I want to hear how the FAA is working with DOT and airlines to do more for passengers with disabilities.

Our talented U.S. workforce makes the nation’s leadership in aviation safety possible.

The House FAA reauthorization triples funding for the FAA’s aviation workforce development programs to expand the talent pipeline to all Americans.

I look forward to hearing more on the FAA’s efforts to recruit, train and retain the expertise it needs to lead globally.

We must also provide a clear and predictable framework for American innovators to scale new entrants safely, while ensuring the needs of local communities are addressed.

Our bill requires the FAA to issue beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) requirements for drone operations—ensuring their safe integration into our skies and creating U.S. jobs. 

Administrator Whitaker, I would like to hear more about the FAA’s BVLOS rulemaking and the agency’s work to ensure our airspace is ready for such promising new technologies.

The recent Boeing 737 MAX 9 door plug accident is yet another reminder of what is at stake if we continue to delay addressing systemic safety issues in U.S. aviation ecosystem.

That is in part why the Senate needs to move a bill forward so we can start to negotiate a long-term FAA reauthorization to ensure that the FAA and NTSB have the authorities and resources they need to continue their important work.

Thank you.

Ranking Member Cohen:
Thank you, Chairman Graves, and thank you Administrator Whitaker for testifying today. 

It is fortunate that we finally have a permanent Administrator, as your leadership is needed more than ever. 

Given the recent safety accident with the Boeing 737 MAX 9, the Japan Airlines Flight 516 collision, and the increase in runway incursions, this is a timely and important hearing. 

I appreciate the FAA’s prompt response to the January 5 Boeing 737 MAX 9 accident, including the temporary grounding of more than 170 of the aircraft, the audit of Boeing’s quality control and safety practices and investigation into Boeing’s 737 MAX 9 manufacturing, and the capping of Boeing’s production rate of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. 

We must continue to hold Boeing accountable, and as Administrator Whitaker previously noted, “This won’t be back to business as usual for Boeing.”

As this accident and the MAX 8 crashes demonstrate, complacency is a luxury we cannot afford when it comes to aviation safety. Boeing and the FAA’s oversight must make the necessary changes to ensure similar accidents never happen again.

As the FAA and NTSB investigations into this accident unfold, our Subcommittee will stand ready to work with all relevant parties to enact any legislative changes deemed necessary to resolve quality control problems, strengthen the oversight of aircraft manufacturers and suppliers and prevent further safety issues from arising. 

I want to thank the FAA employees who worked day and night to ensure no stone was left unturned when it came to reviewing and approving the MAX 9 inspection instructions, as well as the airline maintenance technicians who are implementing these instructions to ensure these aircraft can safely transport passengers again.

I also want to thank NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy and all of the NTSB investigators for their vigorous efforts. Based on what has been communicated to us and the public thus far, their work has been outstanding, and we all look forward to their forthcoming preliminary report. 

In the meantime, we must do everything we can to pass our next FAA reauthorization bill, which is needed now. 

The next deadline of March 8 is quickly approaching, and we urgently need our Senate colleagues to act. We have already passed two short-term authorizations, and I fear passing a third will lead to continued delays. 

While there are certainly tricky issues with any reauthorization, our Committee worked in a bipartisan way to find common ground and pass a bill that contains hundreds of provisions to preserve and enhance America’s aviation system and ensure a robust and vibrant future for U.S. aviation. 

Our bill, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act passed by an overwhelming 351 – 69 vote. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee has yet to hold its markup. I sincerely hope they stick to their February 8 commitment.

Our House-passed bill makes historic airport infrastructure investments, enhances aviation safety, protects consumers including those with disabilities, addresses environmental resiliency, and ensures the safe operation and integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) aircraft. 

It also contains provisions that address the recent spike in near miss incidents at U.S. airports, air traffic controller staffing challenges, and the recording times of cockpit voice recorders. 

For these reasons and many more, a long-term comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill is vital to the safety and continuity of U.S. aviation. 

We are at a critical juncture in the U.S. aviation industry, and proactive leadership is needed more than ever. 

I certainly appreciate the work of my friend, Chairman Graves, and also Ranking Member Larsen and Chairman Graves. Together, we’ve put forth a good bill that will address many critical issues, and we will continue our collaboration as we address issues from the Boeing 737 MAX 9 investigations. 

Thank you again, Administrator Whitaker, for being here today, and I look forward to today’s discussion.