The State of Aviation Safety
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation.
Summary of Subject Matter
Shuster and LoBiondo Opening Statements
(Remarks as Prepared)
Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
I want to thank Chairman LoBiondo for holding today’s hearing. I also want to echo his remarks and express my thanks to the Colgan families for being in attendance here and for their continued engagement.
The United States has the safest aviation system in the world. We can never take this fact for granted. It was not preordained, and it has come at a cost. We have learned some hard and painful safety lessons in aviation, and it has taken the combined efforts of government, labor, and industry to get us to where we are today. It will take all of us working together to remain the gold standard, and that is our highest priority.
We have seen safety increase in all corners of the aviation community, from commercial airlines to general aviation, but there is always more work to be done when it comes to safety.
The FAA was created to be our safety regulator, and the agency must be able to focus on its oversight and regulatory missions. This is critical as we integrate new users into the system, like drones and commercial space transportation, and as we continue to improve safety for some user groups, such as helicopters and general aviation.
I look forward to hearing from today’s government and industry witnesses.
Subcommittee on Aviation
Today’s hearing will focus on this Subcommittee’s number one priority: ensuring the safety of the aviation system and the travelling public.
Our system is extremely safe; last year, nearly 850 million passengers boarded passenger aircraft within or flying to the United States. Due to the hard work of all of you and others in the aviation sector, there were no fatalities on those aircraft.
This milestone, however, does not mark the end of our work. While the high level of safety we have achieved is the result of close collaboration between Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration, industry, and labor, we must remain vigilant and recognize that we can always do more to ensure safety in our skies.
I would like to recognize the Colgan Air Flight 3407 families in attendance today. They recently commemorated the 9th anniversary of the tragic crash near Buffalo, New York and I want to commend them for their continued diligence and attention to ensuring aviation safety.
Recent events and near-misses remind us of the work that remains. Last year, we avoided a potentially catastrophic event when an Air Canada jet carrying 140 people accidentally lined up to land on a taxiway where four planes were waiting to take off. These planes carried more than 900 people, and the margin between a near-miss and one of the worst aviation disasters in history was only 24 feet. This near miss and others have rightfully focused our attention on runway safety.
But, while we work to maintain and improve the safety of commercial airlines, we must also work to improve safety in other segments of aviation.
The general aviation (GA) community makes up a large and diverse part of our national airspace, including over 200,000 aircraft and approximately 500,000 pilots. Again, due to collaboration between Congress, the FAA, and the aviation community, GA fatality rates have declined significantly over the past decade.
However, in fiscal year 2016, there were still over 200 fatal GA accidents and over 350 total lives lost.
Helicopter safety also continues to be an area of focus for this Committee. Too often we see helicopter crashes in which occupants survive, only to be injured or killed in post-crash fires. Just two weeks ago, a sightseeing helicopter at the Grand Canyon crashed killing three and seriously injuring four. In this accident, there was a post-crash fire. Crash resistant fuel systems on rotorcraft continue to be a safety priority. While the circumstances of the recent accident are still under investigation, there is bipartisan consensus in Congress to address this issue.
Lastly, as drone operations in the National Airspace continue to increase, the risk of them interfering with the safe operation of manned aircraft increases. This risk was illustrated on September 21, 2017, when a small drone collided with a US Army Blackhawk over New York Harbor, damaging the helicopter’s rotor and forcing an emergency landing. While no one was injured, it is not hard to imagine this kind of accident occurring again with more serious consequences.
Aviation safety is not a destination, it’s a never-ending process of evaluation, analysis, and course-correction. Without continuous improvements in safety, the aviation industry as we know it could not exist.
As I said before, aviation safety has continued to improve as a result of government, labor, and industry collaboration, but there is always more to be done.
The FAA has primary responsibility for aviation safety, and it must ensure oversight activities that are open and transparent, as well as streamlined and efficient.
Many safety improvements stem from basic research, the introduction of new technologies, and the management of new users making their way into our airspace. FAA’s Technical Center, located in my district, plays a pivotal role in the partnership between government and industry. They continue to be a leader in conducting research, development, demonstration, and validation of the safe integration of new users and technologies into our airspace.
New technology and new users bring new risk; if not properly integrated, they could have an adverse effect on civil aviation safety.
Each person on our panel has a unique role in ensuring the safety of the aviation system. We welcome these varied and unique perspectives as we continue to work together to ensure that the United States continues to have the safest aviation system in the world.