Witness Panel I - Airport Infrastructure:
• Ms. Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, Executive Director, St. Louis Lambert International Airport
• Mr. Bob Montgomery, Vice President, Airport Affairs, Southwest Airlines
Witness Panel II - Aviation Manufacturing:
• Ms. Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Federal Aviation Administration
• Dr. Gerald Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation Issues, Government Accountability Office
• Mr. Greg Fedele, President, Sabreliner Aviation
Thursday, March 23, 2017
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
The hearing will be held in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on this page.
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Chairman Roy Blunt
Good morning. Thank you to the witnesses for appearing before this Subcommittee today to discuss their perspectives on improving airport infrastructure and aviation manufacturing.
This hearing will be broken up into two panels.
For the first panel on Airport Infrastructure we have before us:
- Ms. Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, Executive Director, St. Louis Lambert International Airport; and
- Mr. Bob Montgomery, Vice President, Airport Affairs, Southwest Airlines.
For the second panel on aviation manufacturing we have before us:
- Ms. Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Federal Aviation Administration;
Ms. Gilligan is accompanied by Ms. Dorenda Baker, Director, Aircraft Certification Services, Federal Aviation Administration
- Dr. Gerald Dillingham, Director of Civil Aviation Issues, Government Accountability Office; and
- Mr. Greg Fedele, President, Sabreliner Aviation.
Today’s two-panel hearing will be the first in a series of Subcommittee hearings on reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Civil aviation is a critically important sector within the U.S. economy.
According to FAA statistics, in fiscal year 2014, the aviation industry – which is collectively made up of airports, air carriers, and manufacturers – supported 10.6 million jobs, contributed $1.6 trillion in economic activity, and accounted for 5.1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.
Today’s panels will focus on two important subjects:
First, airport infrastructure and the funding of capital needs through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, federally authorized Passenger Facility Charges, and other mechanisms.
Second, the FAA’s regulatory certification processes and an examination of further reforms that could improve safety while also enhancing competitiveness in the global marketplace for U.S. aviation manufacturers.
In regards to the first panel on infrastructure, we are mindful that our nation’s air transportation system could not exist without the symbiotic relationship between airports and airlines.
The U.S. has nearly 20,000 airports ranging from the largest international hubs to the smallest air fields – all providing important services to the aviation community and our nation’s economy.
Of these, over 3,000 are eligible for federal funding assistance.
The federal government supports airport infrastructure primarily in three ways:
- Grants to increase safety and capacity through the Airport Improvement Program;
- Federally authorized fees on passenger enplanements to support capacity and terminal projects; and
- Tax-exempt bonds issued by states and local authorities for airport improvements.
Despite federal support, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently noted that the infrastructure of airports is not keeping up with demand.
As a result, congestion at airports is growing and it is expected that 24 of the top 30 major airports may soon experience “Thanksgiving-peak traffic volume” at least one day every week.
Underscoring this challenge, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave aviation infrastructure a “D” grade in their recent 2017 Infrastructure Report Card.
A “D” grade is characterized as “mostly below standard… exhibits significant deterioration… [and] condition and capacity are of serious concern.”
To be sure, the Government Accountability Office cites estimates for planned capital improvements at airports over the next five years to range from $32.5 billion to almost $100 billion.
This subcommittee owes it to the travelling public to ensure we thoroughly examine capacity challenges at airports, and ensure a balanced approach to address these challenges.
In regards to the second panel on aviation manufacturing, the Subcommittee is eager to examine additional steps we can take to enhance safety, and U.S. competitiveness.
Civil aircraft manufacturing continues to be the top net exporter in the U.S., with a $59.9 billion positive impact on the trade balance.
Moreover, the FAA’s mission – first and foremost – is to ensure our nation has the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world.
Safety is paramount, but when FAA uses its limited resource to review and certify all products and aspects of manufacturing – even those not directly related to aviation safety – it needlessly slows down the whole process.
If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority.
Bureaucratic inertia and inconsistent interpretation of regulations by different FAA field offices create inefficiencies that may result in the delay of newer, safer technologies and systems that can be deployed on our aircraft.
Recognizing this, Congress directed the FAA to refocus its efforts on areas that have the highest impact on safety and to rely more on technical expertise and resources of the private sector.
FAA should be applauded for the progress it’s made, but we are still dealing with many of the underlying inefficiencies that result in long wait times and cost increases for approval of new designs.
The inability of the FAA certification process to approve aircraft and components in a timely manner has a direct bearing on the ability of U.S. manufacturers to deliver safer products in an increasingly global marketplace.
The purpose of this hearing is to examine ways we can further improve the FAA’s certification processes, expand FAA’s use of underutilized Organization Designation Authorizations, and encourage FAA to engage more on foreign validation of its certificates.
I look forward to working with our Committee Chairman, John Thune, our Ranking Member, Bill Nelson, and my Subcommittee counterpart, Maria Cantwell, on continued bipartisan success in advancing a comprehensive FAA reauthorization this year that is pro-growth, pro-jobs, and, most importantly, pro-safety.
I turn now to Ranking Member Cantwell for any remarks she would like to make.
Ms. Rhonda Hamm-NiebrueggeExecutive DirectorSt. Louis Lambert International Airport
Mr. Bob MontgomeryVice President, Airport AffairsSouthwest Airlines
Witness Panel 2
Ms. Peggy GilliganAssociate Administrator for Aviation SafetyFederal Aviation Administration
Dr. Gerald DillinghamDirector of Civil Aviation IssuesGovernment Accountability Office
Mr. Greg FedelePresidentSabreliner Aviation