FAA Reauthorization: Enhancing America’s Gold Standard in Aviation Safety
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the full Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves (R-LA):
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves
Today, the Committee formally kicks off its work on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) reauthorization. A strong bipartisan reauthorization is my top legislative priority, and I look forward to working with Ranking Member Larsen to complete a bill on time.
As a professional pilot and active user of the system I am extremely proud of our aviation system, including its safety record. In this Committee, there continues to be a bipartisan commitment to safety and maintaining U.S. leadership and credibility as the gold standard for aviation safety.
In 11 of the past 13 years, there have been no passenger fatalities on scheduled domestic passenger flights — despite passenger enplanements increasing by 50 percent between 2002 and 2019. General aviation is safer, with the number of fatal and nonfatal accidents trending downward since the year 2000. Congress and the FAA, in partnership with industry, labor, and the travelling public, have fought to make air travel as safe as possible. Our safety record and safety culture are testaments to that.
However, recently there have been incidents that reemphasize why getting an FAA reauthorization done on time is critical. On January 13th, a runway incursion occurred at JFK International Airport when two passenger planes nearly collided as one crossed an active runway. And just this past weekend, at Austin International Airport, a cargo plane was attempting to land on the same runway where a passenger plane was beginning to take off.
It shows that even following the safest decade in our history, our aviation system is clearly in need of urgent attention. As Mr. Boulter says in his testimony, complacency and stagnation are equal threats to a safety culture. The previous conventional wisdom for regulating safety focused on addressing concerns after aviation accidents. Now, the FAA seeks to mitigate risks before accidents happen.
In addition, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has several open safety recommendations that warrant review. The Committee will be reviewing all such recommendations while reauthorizing the NTSB as part of the FAA bill.
In conclusion, I want to assure you all, particularly those with us here today who have lost loved ones to aviation accidents, that we all share the common goal of enhancing the United States’ gold standard in aviation safety, and that safety remains our top priority. I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses on how we can further improve safety as we craft this year’s bill.
Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for having this timely hearing on aviation safety.
We just had the safest decade in aviation history. In the last 10 years, we’ve had three fatalities on scheduled passenger airlines as compared to the previous decade – about 140. On the general aviation side, we’ve continued to see progress as well, with a preliminary average fatality rate of 1.07 death per 100,000 flight hours, down from 1.35 and 1.49 in the last two decades, respectively. Now let’s be clear – the goal is zero fatalities.
Despite these improvements, alarm bells should be going off across the aviation industry. Just look at what’s happening in the news today: runway incursions and close calls, failures in the air traffic control system, problems with airports and airlines’ information systems (including staffing and reservation systems). Our system is stretched and stressed to capacity, and demand is projected to go nowhere but up. We’re all well aware of the increased demand that we’re going to see with pilots, mechanics, as well as other positions within the aviation workforce, and we need to make sure that we’re able to be proactive about meeting growing demands because there are fundamental transformations on the horizon for the National airspace system.
In the next 10 years, the aerospace industry will involve an ever-increasing number of drones, the introduction of electric aircraft, including electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL), the reintroduction of civil supersonic aircraft, and the expanded use of commercial space transportation vehicles. We must build on our record of improving aviation safety while being the country that facilitates new technologies and entrants into the market in a way that does not hinder the entrepreneurs that are investing in these new technologies.
Our regulatory organizational structure must adapt if we’re going to safely integrate new entrants into the market. Safety doesn’t mean eliminating risk entirely. The old joke about “the safest airplane is the one that doesn’t fly” still applies. Our role, and the FAA’s role, is to manage risk and ensure safety while reaping the incredible benefits of flight. Our global leadership in aviation begins with global leadership in aviation safety. And the only way to maintain our gold standard is to continue to enhance it. I’m going to say it again – the goal is zero fatalities.
We have an opportunity to rise to the moment and address the root causes of these recent incidents and safely integrate new operators, all while ensuring that our safety culture is as robust as possible. The aviation system is telling us something’s wrong, and we need to listen. The only way we can ensure safety is by being proactive in our upcoming FAA reauthorization bill and fixing issues before they become problems.
I look forward to working with the Committee members and our witnesses on provisions in the 2018 FAA reauthorization bill, which is still not fully implemented, to ensure America continues to lead the world in innovation and aviation safety. Again, Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for the hearing, and I yield back.
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