Chairman Price Statement at Oversight Hearing on FAA Aviation Certification

2019-09-25 14:07

Congressman David Price (D-NC), Chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's oversight hearing on FAA aviation certification:

The hearing will come to order.  I’d like to welcome today’s witness, Mr. Dan Elwell, Deputy Administrator of the FAA and Acting Administrator from January 2018 until August of this year.  I understand he left a conference with his international counterparts in Montreal to be here today—thank you for accommodating us.  I’d also like to welcome Mr. Earl Lawrence, who serves as Executive Director of the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service.  He is here to assist us with technical questions during the hearing.  Thank you both for being here.

The FAA’s certification process is a vital component of aviation safety.  Located within FAA’s Office of Aviation Safety, the Aircraft Certification Service ensures that pilots, aircraft, and aircraft components, as well as airlines and charter flight operators, meet safety standards and regulatory requirements.  More than 1,300 engineers, scientists, inspectors, and test pilots are responsible for carrying out these critical activities.

Unfortunately, the certification process—long considered the gold standard by other regulators around the world—has been called into question following the tragic crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia and the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 less than five months later. 

These horrible incidents resulted in the deaths of 346 people and caused immeasurable pain and suffering for the victims’ families, some of whom are in this hearing room.  They deserve not just our sympathy, but a thorough and impartial accounting of what went wrong followed by the implementation of any reforms necessary to ensure that something like this can never happen again. 

As with many aviation disasters, it appears that a complex chain of events occurred in just the right sequence with devastating consequences.  Initial reports indicate that equipment failure, automated systems in the cockpit, and human error may all share some of the blame.  There are also many legitimate questions surrounding the extent to which FAA’s certification process—especially the Organization Designation Authorization, or ODA, arrangement with Boeing—contributed to a massive failure in regulatory oversight.

To be clear, as Members of Congress, we are not professional accident investigators or prosecutors.  We eagerly await the release of the crash reports from experts on the ground and the pending recommendations from several investigative panels that are expected in the coming weeks and months. 

At the same time, as elected officials, we are charged with independently assessing what has happened and using our own judgment to consider possible remedies.  We will work with FAA, the many oversight bodies conducting audits and reviews, and outside experts to ensure that profits and production timelines are never prioritized over the safety of the traveling public. 

This subcommittee, in particular, is responsible for allocating resources to FAA so the agency can effectively carry out its mission.  This is not a partisan issue.  Under the leadership of both Democrats and Republicans, we have consistently funded FAA aviation safety and certification activities at or above the levels requested by the agency.  In the wake of the MAX crashes, the House-passed FY2020 THUD funding bill included a major infusion of new funding in anticipation of substantive responses required by the ongoing reviews.

We need a detailed and transparent accounting from FAA about what happened, how the agency is using existing resources, and whether additional funding or other authorities are needed for FAA to remain the world leader in aviation safety. 

For example, how do we ensure that FAA employees and their designated representatives working for aircraft manufacturers are insulated from conflicts of interest?  Does FAA have adequate in-house expertise and staff with proficiency in computer science, systems engineering, and data modeling?  How will FAA safely return the MAX to service in coordination with international partners? 

We also need more details as to how FAA plans to review, assess, and expeditiously implement any forthcoming recommendations.  The confidence in our aviation system is at stake, and nothing less than full disclosure and accountability from all stakeholders will be required.

The strength of the Appropriations Committee lies in our commitment to comprehensive oversight of agency funding and activities—line by line, year by year.  This hearing is just an initial step in this process.  I expect FAA to continue to provide us with timely information to inform our work, and I look forward to hearing the testimony of our witness today.

Now, I’d like to recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, my friend and partner, Mr. Diaz-Balart of Florida. 

116th Congress