Committee Advances Bipartisan Aircraft Safety and Certification Bill

November 18, 2020

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today released the following statements after the Committee approved S. 3969, the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020. This bipartisan legislation would implement provisions to improve aviation safety based on lessons learned from the tragic Boeing 737 MAX crashes, including addressing human factors to accurately assess pilot responses to cockpit alerts.

“The Committee’s approval of the bipartisan aviation safety bill is progress toward improving the certification process and enhancing accountability, especially as it relates to the manufacturing of passenger aircraft,” said Wicker. “As the FAA prepares to unground the 737 MAX, this legislation contains numerous provisions that would ensure that the agency performs its safety oversight to the highest standards. I thank Ranking Member Cantwell for working with me on these important reforms to enhance safety for the flying public.”

“When it comes to aviation, safety has to be the top priority. This legislation implements new safety reforms that both the FAA and the manufacturers must follow,” said Cantwell. “It moves the FAA back to a more direct supervisory role and requires more robust product analysis from the manufacturers. It also requires the FAA to upgrade and retain technical expertise to do proper oversight and protects company engineers and whistleblowers who see flaws early in the design process. I want to thank everyone that took time to work with us on these reforms, especially the victims’ families, who have shared their experience and their efforts to protect others.”

The Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020 would:

·         Mandate Safety Management Systems (SMS) for large aircraft and engine manufacturers. SMSs provide systematic approaches to safety policy, assurance, and risk-management;

·         Require the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to approve the appointment of Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) unit members and require the FAA to develop guidance for technical qualifications for such members;

·         Require the development of best practices for ODAs, including those that would ensure any reports of undue pressure or regulatory coziness are addressed; 

·         Prohibit limitations on direct communications between ODA unit members and FAA inspectors;

·         Require the FAA to review and reassess assumptions related to “human factors” – the interface between human and machine – when certifying aircraft, particularly those situations involving multiple cockpit alerts and automation;

·         Require the FAA to conduct more research into human factors with respect to the design and certification of aircraft;

·         Establish an FAA center of excellence that would examine human factors and automation within aviation;

·         Require flight testing by a representative sample of international and domestic airline pilots;

·         Direct the FAA to establish an Office of Continuing Education to assist the FAA’s certification engineers and inspectors to keep current with new technologies and concepts;

·         Provide funding authorization for the FAA to hire specialized technical staff with expertise in new and emerging technologies to assist in development of technical standards in certification;

·         Prohibit FAA employees from receiving financial incentives or awards that relate to certification schedules or quotas;

·         Direct the FAA to maintain a voluntary and confidential safety reporting program for FAA employees to convey concerns about aircraft designs during the certification process;

·         Extend existing whistleblower protections for airline employees to employees and contractors of aircraft, engine, and propeller manufacturers;

·         Repeal unused certification authorities that would permit the FAA to further delegate responsibilities to manufacturers;

·         Require the FAA to review its own expertise and capability to understand the safety implications of new or innovative technologies, materials, and procedures that designers and manufacturers of passenger aircraft may adopt or introduce.

The following are new provisions based on amendments offered that would:

·         Require a Transportation Research Board (TRB) study of the Transport Airplane Risk Assessment Methodology (TARAM) process used by the FAA;

·         Authorize appropriations to support international efforts to improve safety;

·         Create a National Air Grant Fellowship Program;

·         Require the FAA to review and revise the aviation regulation commonly known as the “changed product rule”; 

·         Require the FAA to establish a Technical Certification Board to review new or novel technologies related to the certification of certain airplanes;

·         Establish a TRB annual report that identifies, categorizes, and analyzes emerging safety trends in air transportation;

·         Include a modified version of Chairman Wicker’s “Federal Aviation Administration Accountability Enhancement Act” (S. 4565);

·         Require the FAA to develop guidance for procedures for document traceability and clarity of explanations for system safety assessment certification documents and changes to aircraft type designs; 

·         Authorize appropriations for the FAA’s Advanced Materials Center of Excellence;

·         Include the “Promote Aviation Regulations for Technical Training (PARTT) 147 Act of 2019” (S. 3043);

·         Prohibit the FAA from delegating any finding of compliance or system safety assessment for any critical system design feature of a transport category airplane required for any certificate until the FAA has reviewed and validated any underlying assumptions related to human factors;

·         Require a TRB report on (1) the placement of time or other limits on type certificates and (2) requiring the FAA, when issuing an amended or supplemental type certificate for a design not in compliance with latest applicable airworthiness standards, to document any exemption or finding of equivalent level of safety.

Click here to read the bill. 

The reforms in the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020 are based on evidence from accident reports, solicited recommendations from aviation experts, insight from the victims’ families, witnesses, and stakeholders, and a series of hearings on aviation safety. The Committee exercises jurisdiction over the FAA.