U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled “FAA Reauthorization: Administration Perspectives” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will testify on key aviation issues before the Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including air traffic control modernization and reform, protecting airline passengers, and the overall state of the airline industry.
The Honorable Elaine Chao, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
This hearing will take place in Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
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Chairman John Thune
Good Morning. I want to welcome Secretary Chao back today. This is her first time before the Committee since being confirmed.
Madame Secretary, I want to thank you for appearing before us today to discuss reauthorization of the FAA. We are working hard, on a bipartisan basis, to produce a bill – hopefully during this work period – and we appreciate the Administration’s engagement.
Already this year, the Committee has held hearings on a range of topics underpinning this legislative effort, including safety, drone policy, rural issues, aircraft certification, consumer concerns, and infrastructure financing.
One of the key governance issues we have not yet focused on this year, but which has been discussed extensively over the last two years and commonly occurs in other parts of the world, is whether the United States should separate the air traffic service provider function from the FAA and create a non-governmental, not-for-profit corporation to do the job.
The FAA runs a remarkably safe operation, but outside auditors have dinged the government’s performance on delivering safety and efficiency upgrades, prompting a debate as to the best path forward to realize those benefits.
This week, the President used his bully pulpit to join the proponents of significant reform. The President has challenged Congress, his administration, and aviation stakeholders to take bold action to improve our air traffic control system.
It is hard to ignore the many independent studies and reviews that document the flaws with the current structure. I am looking forward to a robust discussion today on the merits of the reform proposals, as well as ways the Administration will seek to address concerns of key stakeholders, especially those with a rural perspective.
While ATC reform has garnered much of the attention this week, there are plenty of other important issues that require the consideration of the DOT and this committee.
The Department administers several key programs, including the Essential Air Service Program, and is responsible for consumer protection oversight for the aviation industry. Last month, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Blunt and Ranking Member Cantwell held a hearing on recent consumer issues, and I am interested to hear directly from the Secretary on what steps the Department has taken to address these matters.
In addition, as we craft our FAA bill, we will continue to focus on certification reform, the integration of drones into the airspace, airport infrastructure development, aviation safety, and rural air service. There is still a lot of work to be done, and I look forward to working with the administration and all of my colleagues throughout the process.
With that, I reiterate my thanks to the Secretary for being here and turn to Ranking Member Nelson for his opening statement.
Mr. Chairman – thank you for calling this hearing today.
With the current extension of the FAA set to expire on September 30, I am hopeful that this committee will have a long-term and bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill ready to go in the coming weeks.
After all, the Senate passed such a bipartisan FAA bill just last year by a vote of 95 to 3.
At the time, Chairman Thune and I focused on areas of agreement. This resulted in legislation that addressed the safe integration of drones in the national airspace, significant reforms to the FAA certification process, and broad-ranging aviation consumer protections.
This was a win for aviation stakeholders as well as the traveling public, which was reflected in the overwhelming 95 to 3 vote.
Unfortunately, any further progress on that bill was thwarted in the House of Representatives by one reckless proposal – air traffic control privatization.
As a result, the FAA once again operates under an extension with a looming deadline.
I understand, Madam Secretary, that you will today present the administration’s support for shifting ATC services from the FAA to an independent entity that will be governed in part by the airlines. My views on this matter, despite what promises you make today, remain unchanged.
I am opposed to ATC privatization – no matter what form it might take.
We currently have the safest air traffic control system in the world. Why risk that by handing the whole thing over to an untested, unproven entity?
And why give away billions of dollars in government assets to an entity that will be governed in large part by the airlines?
Even some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have not rallied behind this proposal because they understand the potential harm to general aviation as well as to small and rural communities.
A fundamental break-up of the FAA cannot advance when there are such strong divisions among aviation stakeholders and in Congress. It just won’t happen.
This entire discussion over ATC privatization distracts from legitimate matters that must be addressed by Congress as part of an FAA reauthorization.
The traveling public is frustrated:
Frustrated that they can’t check their bags or board flights with increasingly shrinking and overbooked seats without paying fees.
Frustrated that airlines won’t design websites that clearly communicate their fees and policies.
Frustrated that failing airline IT systems result in cancelled and delayed flights for days on end.
This is why this year’s FAA reauthorization legislation must once again include strong consumer protections to address these growing frustrations.
After all, if the airlines can’t even manage their own IT systems, how can we trust them to effectively govern a privatized ATC entity and continue current NextGen modernization efforts?
Instead, let’s deal with real problems – like making sure passengers are treated like valued customers – not solutions in search of a problem.
No more distractions – let’s keep the focus on a bipartisan, long-term, and comprehensive FAA reauthorization bill passing Congress very soon.
I look forward to working with you, Madam Secretary, as well as Chairman Thune, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Blunt, and Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Cantwell on that effort.
The Honorable Elaine ChaoSecretaryU.S. Department of Transportation