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Chairman Price’s Oversight Hearing Opening Statement: FAA Aviation Certification

September 25, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC- Today, September 25, 2019, Chairman David Price (NC-04) of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee hosted a public hearing on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aviation certification process.  The hearing, currently in process, is in room 2359 of the Rayburn House Office Building and the witness is Daniel K. Elwell, Deputy Administrator at FAA.

Chairman Price’s opening statement:

 

Congressman David Price

Opening Statement

Oversight Hearing: FAA Aviation Certification

Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

 

Remarks as prepared.

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 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 maintenance problems, equipment failure, poorly understood automated systems, 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—including the delegation of certain aspects of this process to industry through Organization Designation Authorization, or ODA—contributed to a fatal failure in regulatory oversight.  In other words, were proper procedures followed?  And even if so, has the shift toward delegation gone too far?

To be clear, as Members of Congress, we are not professional accident investigators.  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, we are charged with conducting vigorous oversight of the programs, policies, and procedures that are in place.  This includes not just the pressing issues surrounding the MAX aircraft, but comprehensive reviews of FAA’s overall approach to certification, flight standards, and maintenance procedures.

We must 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 safety mission.  This is not a partisan issue.  For the last five fiscal years, enacted appropriations for FAA aviation safety activities met or exceeded 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.

As we move forward, 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 be 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? 
  • How does FAA plan to review, assess, and expeditiously implement forthcoming recommendations?

Finally, we need more details about a troubling letter from the independent Office of Special Counsel that alleges FAA misled Congress about the qualifications of aviation safety inspectors involved in setting flight standards for the Boeing MAX aircraft.  The confidence in our aviation system is at stake, and nothing less than full disclosure and accountability will be required from FAA and all stakeholders.

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.