Chairman Price Statement at Federal Aviation Administration Safety Oversight Hearing

2021-05-12 10:42

Congressman David Price (D-NC), Chair of the Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's oversight hearing on Federal Aviation Administration Safety:

Good morning everyone, and welcome to our fourth subcommittee hearing of the season. Today, we will examine aviation safety and how the Federal Aviation Administration can strengthen its oversight of our national airspace system.  

I am pleased to welcome today’s witness, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. Administrator Dickson: thank you so much for being here to today to testify and answer our questions.

While we are hosting this meeting in a slightly different format, I expect the conversation will be as constructive and fruitful as the hearing that we held with you last year.  As a reminder to all the members here today, please mute your mics when you are not speaking and ensure your video remains on in order to be recognized!

As many of you know, over the last few years this Subcommittee has placed particular emphasis on safety, equity, and resiliency, which I know are also important to the FAA and the entire Department of Transportation. 

In particular, the topic of safety will guide a large part of the dialogue today. When we began this conversation with the FAA in 2019, it was in response to the devastating Boeing MAX accidents which took the lives of 346 passengers and crew members.  All 346 of them have made an indelible imprint on me and this subcommittee, and we do our work with the victims and their families at the forefront of our minds.  

We all know that safety is neither an option nor a commodity. It’s not just “nice to have”: it must be required of every product, process, and person in the national airspace system as a matter of practice.  Safety cannot be for sale; or reserved for the highest bidder. The FAA needs to ensure that safety is measured and achieved in the way our aircraft are built, tested, and maintained, our airports are designed, and our air traffic control is managed, without providing a commercial advantage to any one manufacturer, operator, technology, or airport. It is for everyone’s benefit in the air and on the ground, as the twin Pratt & Whitney engine fires earlier this year have reminded us in vivid terms.  

Aviation safety requires cooperation among operators, manufacturers, pilots, airports, passengers, and civil aviation authorities across the globe.  Every advancement made in aircraft design, automation, air traffic control, airport control, and piloting strengthens our safety net. 

We cannot use a piecemeal approach to safety: we need every component to operate with the same level of sophistication for the whole of aviation safety to be greater than the sum of its parts.  After a century of commercial flight, all the proverbial low-hanging fruit has been picked.  What remains are the hardest, most expensive, most complicated, and most intricate problems at the tail ends of the risk distribution curve.

As I alluded to earlier, eliminating these risks does not rest solely with the FAA.  But if the FAA is to assert itself as a global leader in aviation safety, it needs to demonstrate it - concretely, repeatedly, and proactively.    

The aviation industry is changing rapidly, and the FAA needs to keep pace without lowering its standards or relinquishing its authority.  In other words, the tail cannot wag the dog.  The FAA needs to raise the expectations and guide the direction of its workforce, its counterparts, and the industry.  When it comes to safety, there can be nothing short of relentless attention to every aspect of aviation operations. 

The FAA and its dedicated employees have an exceptionally challenging mission—one that is vital to our safety, economic well-being, and global competitiveness. You provide critical services on behalf of the traveling public every day. Millions of flights must safely navigate our national airspace, which is the most complex in the world. 

This Subcommittee has worked to increase funding for the FAA over the past several years, dedicated in part to improved safety activities and required personnel. We want to help the FAA modernize its air traffic control system, improve efficiency, transition legacy equipment into new platforms, and develop a highly skilled workforce. 

While we can’t get into the details of the FY22 budget today, the Administration signaled support for covering the growing costs of managing our national airspace, improving aviation safety, updating data analytics and decision-making, and modernizing air traffic in its “skinny” document. I look forward to working with the agency, the Administration, and Congress as we consider the FY22 appropriations bill, the American Jobs Plan, and any other infrastructure opportunities before us. 

Everyone here wants the FAA to be an unqualified success.  We want to give the FAA both the resources and the authority it needs to do just that.  In turn, we need the FAA to be candid with us and responsive to our questions about what they are doing, how and why they are doing it, and how much it costs.   

Those questions are especially relevant to the FAA’s  12-year endeavor to achieve greater safety and efficiency by modernizing its technology and procedures through NextGen and other initiatives.  We appreciate the FAA’s careful planning and gradual deployment of new capabilities to date, but everyone is eager for more.  The President’s full FY22 budget is anticipated to give a comprehensive accounting of the FAA’s plans and I look forward to working with you on them.

Finally, I want to recognize that the FAA and its employees have not been spared from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and your agency has had keep our nation’s airspace functioning during a tough year. I appreciate the work that you have done to help get COVID-19 relief funding to airports while weathering your own challenges. I know we would all be interested to hear if there are any lessons learned from the pandemic about agency operations that you can share with us going forward.

Again, thank you so much for being here today, and I look forward to our exchange.

117th Congress