FAA Reauthorization: Examining the Current and Future Challenges Facing the Aerospace Workforce
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation.
Opening remarks, as prepared, by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves (R-LA) from today’s hearing entitled, “FAA Reauthorization: Examining the Current and Future Challenges Facing the Aerospace Workforce”:
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Sam Graves
First off, I want to commend Chairman Graves and Ranking Member Cohen for holding these hearings in advance of the upcoming FAA reauthorization bill.
I think it's fitting that we kicked off our series of hearings with safety, which underpins our entire aviation system, and that we’re concluding today by focusing on the aerospace workforce. The men and women who keep the cogs turning in factories, repair facilities, cockpits, and air traffic control towers across the country are not only instrumental to ensuring the safety of the traveling public, but also to ensuring the global competitiveness of the American aerospace industry.
Now is the time to examine the challenges the aviation industry faces so we can build and fly the advanced aircraft of the future. As a professional pilot, I think about how pilot training has remained static over the years, except for the adoption of the 1,500 flight-hour rule.
We heard at our first hearing how we’ve established the gold standard here in the United States, but it’s also true that many other countries have very safe systems. And none of them have achieved their safety record by matching our 1,500 flight-hour first officer requirement.
In our system, pilots with around 250 hours – typically very structured hours – come out of flight school and are left to bridge the gap to 1,500 hours. Only a few of those hours have any kind of requirements associated with them, and even then, they can almost all be logged on sunny, clear days. I’m not convinced that taking kids out of flight school and telling them to tow banners, train students, or bore holes in the sky while racking up debt produces the best pilots.
We all know what the FAA found – that the number of flight hours you have are not a reflection of what kind of pilot you are. I know some of the pilot groups like to point out that we haven’t had an accident in the last 10 years. So, I want to go back through and examine those accidents because they point to the fact that they are not a result of the 1,500 flight-hour rule. If you look at the accidents prior to 2010, not a single one had anything to do with 1,500 hours.
You can classify accidents in two categories. You can classify them as mechanical failure, which the FAA determines is unrecoverable due to something happening to the aircraft. Or you can classify them as pilot error.
If you go back to 2004, Pinnacle, what we saw was a severe lack of professionalism where the pilot in command had 7,000 hours, and he pushed the envelope during a ferry flight – and he did that intentionally – having fun. And it led to a loss of both engines.
In 2004, a Corporate Airlines pilot failed to properly execute a non-precision approach. Both crew members had in excess of 1,500 hours.
Comair, 2006, pilots attempted to take off from the wrong runway. Both the crew members had well in excess of 1,500 hours.
In the Colgan Air accident, the captain responded incorrectly to a stall warning that led to the loss of the airplane. Both crew members had well in excess of 1,500 hours. The captain had 3,379 hours and the first officer had 2,244 hours. It had nothing to do with the 1,500 hour rule.
We have got to find better ways to train safer and better skilled pilots and give folks credit for the skill they demonstrate or the high-quality training they receive.
Just look at the military. You come out of the military, and you go into combat with 300 hours. So what we’re saying is pilots who have 300 hours are qualified to fly an F15 for the Air Force or an F18 for the Navy in combat, but they can’t fly in the right seat of an airliner. They’re qualified to fly a C17 or a C130 hauling heavy cargo, but they’re not qualified to fly in the right seat of an airliner.
We all know what happened in Buffalo, and I agree that the system covered up some problems. That’s where we need to focus. We need to focus on where the problem is, not where the problem isn’t. Anything less is an insult to the profession and the industry that relies on our pilots.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about ways we can improve not only the pilot workforce but also the other skilled professionals our pilots depend on to deliver people and goods around the world.
Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Garret Graves
When you look at the workforce projections for pilots, mechanics, advanced aviation systems, flight attendants, TSA agents, and others compared to where we are today – we can see very clearly that we’re going off a cliff. What I mean by that is the challenges we’ve seen in recent years – dramatic drops and unexpected surges in consumer demands for airline travel, constraints for our air traffic control system – will become common practice. This means that disruptions, lack of capacity, higher prices, delays, and cancellations will continue if we’re unable to get ahead of the projected demand for air travel. There are so many different components in this system, and we need to ensure that all aspects of the aviation industry are working in unison to support the public.
This hearing is focused on exploring how the upcoming Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill could address these workforce shortages – an absolutely critical issue. This is the last hearing we will have had in the Subcommittee before we get to work writing that bill, and I think it’s appropriate that today we close out by talking about the hard-working men and women who are the backbone of our aviation industry.
I want to thank the full Committee Chairman Sam Graves for working with us and helping identify the hearing topics we’ve gone through. I want to thank my friend, Mr. Cohen, and the Ranking Member, Mr. Larsen, for their leadership and their input on this to make sure that we’re thinking about the big themes and proper topics for the reauthorization bill.
If I look at the last few weeks and months of hearings that we’ve had, there’s no question that we’re at a crossroads in civil aviation. The aviation industry really is remarkable. Despite all of the challenges it faces, we still have the world’s safest, busiest, and most successful aviation system. I want to thank the many safety advocates including those in attendance today for continuing to push our system to new levels of safety.
We owe all of this success to the nation’s unmatched aviation workforce. And I want to thank, again, the men and women – the millions of men and women – that make up that aerospace workforce.
As we move forward, it’s critical that we get input from the different sectors that are here today. Whether you’re here representing pilots, airlines, general aviation, flight attendants, mechanics, or all the ground crews – you’re representing this next generation of our aviation system.
We’ve got to get this right. Because at the end of the day, if we don’t, then the disruptions that we’ve seen over the last few years, quite frankly, aren’t going to be fixed.
As we move forward, we must look carefully at the weakest link. We’ve often found ourselves out there building up one component of the holistic system, only to see another component suffer from a lack of attention and resources.
For example, look at what’s happened recently with the constraining capacity in air traffic control capabilities in the northeast. We had a weak link. We’ve had to actually pull back flight availabilities in those airports to ensure that ATC is able to safely handle the number of flights in their region.
Coming back to what I said at the beginning of my remarks: at the end of the day, this is about the consumer. If we’re constraining capacity, we’re reducing convenience and probably increasing price, and that’s not the direction we need to be moving in.
We are well aware that projections make it crystal clear that we’ve got workforce challenges ahead of us. We’ve got to be thinking about how we can move forward in a way that meets future demand while maintaining the clear objective of convenience, affordability, and safety. We have to ensure that we do this in a smart and effective way for our taxpayers.