Comprehensive Aircraft Certification Reform Legislation Advances to President’s Desk

December 22, 2020

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, and Reps. Sam Graves, R-Mo., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member and chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, today released the following statements upon the congressional approval of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes the historic and comprehensive Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. The legislation will reform and strengthen the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aircraft certification process. The proposed changes come after the conclusion of multiple reviews and investigations into the FAA’s certification of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which suffered two crashes in the span of five months that killed 346 people.

“After reviewing the evidence from incident reports, soliciting recommendations from aviation experts, speaking to witnesses and stakeholders, and holding a series of hearings, this bill was drafted in direct response to information stemming from the fatal crashes involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft,” said Wicker. “It also includes provisions to address findings from the Commerce Committee’s extensive investigation of aviation safety. The legislation will make critical reforms to the FAA’s oversight and certification process.”

“It's so important that we make safety, the number one priority in the United States. If we want to be number one in aviation, you have to be number one in aviation safety. Chairman Wicker and I worked with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to produce important legislation that improves the safety reforms needed at the FAA, the safety reforms of oversight of manufacturing and the certification process, and reforms that will help us here in Congress better stay on top of the information as far as the certification process,” said Cantwell. “I want to thank all of the families who helped us in communicating why these safety reforms are important … and to let them know that even though we're putting a big down payment on safety reforms in the United States Congress by passing this legislation, this process does not stop with the passage of this legislation.”

“This bicameral agreement will not only strengthen our country’s aviation certification process, it will enable continued American competitiveness in the aerospace industry and ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety,” said Graves. “I want to thank Chairman DeFazio, Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cantwell, House Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Garret Graves and Chairman Rick Larsen, and all those who agreed to set politics aside and  develop a final legislative proposal that focuses on the aviation experts’ recommendations.  This bill makes America’s safe aviation system even safer by acknowledging and applying the painful lessons we’ve learned as a result of the two tragic accidents, seeks improvement of global aviation safety standards, and enhances our own system without needlessly tearing it apart.”

“Our bipartisan—and now bicameral deal—is the result of nearly two years of intense investigation in my Committee, multiple public hearings on both sides of the Capitol, and countless conversations with the families of the victims and the aviation community about how best to address the failings that led to the development of a fatally-flawed aircraft and an FAA certification process that ultimately allowed that aircraft into service,” said DeFazio. “I’m immensely grateful to my Congressional partners in this effort, especially Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen, who have all been steadfast in our mission to make sure the story of the MAX is never repeated. And of course, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Stumo family, Paul Njoroge, and all those who lost their loved ones who have kept a bright spotlight on the issue in order to bring about change. I look forward to this bipartisan legislation moving quickly and being signed into law, ushering in a new chapter in aviation safety in this country and around the world.”

“This historic legislation is a major step to prevent the certification of substandard aircraft and avoiding future crashes,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya died in the Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crash. “ET302 families across the world have worked hard to eliminate excessive delegation and to hold those who hide safety defects accountable. We are indebted to Chairman DeFazio, Ranking Member Graves, Chairman Wicker and Ranking Member Cantwell for their hard work and dedication to safety and the future excellence of the US aviation industry.”

Among other things, the bipartisan, bicameral agreement:

  • Requires aviation manufacturers to adopt safety management systems;
  • Orders an independent review of Boeing’s organization delegation authorization (ODA), safety culture, and capability to perform FAA-delegated functions;
  • Reforms the FAA’s greater oversight of manufacturer’s ODA units and FAA-designees working within those units;
  • Authorizes civil penalties against aviation manufacturer supervisors who interfere with or place undue pressure on other employees who are empowered to act as FAA designees in finding that a design or product complies with design requirements;
  • Requires the FAA to approve each new designee who performs those functions;
  • Authorizes more than $75 million over three years for the FAA to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists, software and cybersecurity experts, and other qualified technical experts;
  • Requires the FAA to consider whether there comes a point at which a derivative of an old aircraft design should no longer be certificated as a derivative instead of as a new design;
  • Locks in new requirements on the disclosure of safety-critical systems;
  • Expands whistleblower protections;
  • Requires the FAA to review pilot training, including manual flying skills training, and the assumptions relied upon by the FAA and manufacturers when designing an airplane, and to work with the international community to improve pilot training globally; and
  • Ensures better understanding of human factors and how to integrate them into the aircraft certification process.

In April of 2019, weeks after the second of two tragic crashes of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, Committee staff began receiving information from whistleblowers detailing numerous concerns related to aviation safety. Last week, the Committee released the investigation report on aviation safety oversight. The report details a number of significant examples of lapses in aviation safety oversight and failed leadership in the FAA. The committee is in receipt of many more examples and continues to receive new information from new whistleblowers regularly.