Committee Chair Cantwell to FAA Administrator: “I'm a firm believer that engineers on the ground know their job. What's not clear to me is whether people are listening to them, and whether the FAA has their back”

November 3, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation delivered the following opening statement at today’s oversight hearing with Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson:

 “We're having a hearing today on the implementation of our new aviation reform law, and want to welcome the Honorable Steve Dickson, Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration for joining us today.



 “I also want to take a moment to recognize the families who have lost loved ones who are with us today. Thank you so much for being here and for your continued oversight on this issue. I can't imagine the pain and suffering of your loss and the pain that you are still feeling. But I certainly want you to know we appreciate your vigilance on aviation safety reform. You have shaped the safety work of this committee. And with your support and critical input, the committee played a leading role in drafting the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.

 “This important legislation, enacted into law almost a year ago, I believe, provided a big down payment on the direction that we need to go to implement safety reforms in the United States, and to make us the gold standard around the world. That is why we're here today to have this hearing. To determine whether the Federal Aviation Administration, has faithfully and vigorously executed the safety reform law in accordance with congressional mandates for deadlines and action.

 “I will be upfront with you, Mr. Administrator, the purpose of this hearing: it is to find out whether you are upholding the spirit and the letter of this law. While not the only thing we need to do, the law that we implemented was a clear course correction. It said that we needed to have stronger FAA oversight, the people in place to do that job, and to hold manufacturers accountable. Directing the FAA, and making sure that that job is done, is critical.

 “While I know your communication to the committee, your written testimony, talks about a lot of the actions and requirements that were in the law, we also know that there is more to be done.

 “I want to say that I'm very appreciative of Ian Won at the Boeing Aviation Oversight Office, who, on May 13th, issued a letter basically slowing down the 777x so that more information could be provided, needed to be provided, for the oversight of that plane. I'm a firm believer that engineers on the ground know their job. What's not clear to me is whether people are listening to them, and whether the FAA has their back.

“I also want to enter into the record, an August 19th letter from Mr. Won, also talking about the changes to the Boeing BASOO office and things that needed to be done to make sure that they continue to have the oversights and objectives. He's been clear, we need more resources. He's been clear, we need the right people to do this job. So we need the FAA, as I said, to be that gold standard.

“When a Special Committee Review of Aviation Certification Process, the SCACP, came back with a whitewash of what we needed to do, I was disappointed that you did not take more critique with that. In fact, basically, you testified before Congress, ‘basically, the system is not broken.’ Well, there were parts that were broken, and they need to be fixed.

 “So I look forward to your testimony. But reading it, I see more of the same. Now is not a time to mince words, now is the time to provide the leadership that it takes to get the staffing, the oversight, and the direction that is required of an oversight agency to hold manufacturers accountable.

 “Make no mistake, the manufacturer has its own responsibilities here. And we will also hold them accountable. We believe there's more to be done on certification, more to be done on the oversight and certification process, so that we are not just creating checkmarks on a list that now we can say ‘the list has its checkmarks.’ That is where we were with the MCAS system. In the end, it was the tragedy that we all know too well and are still living with.

 “So I'm very challenged by your testimony. We don't believe the FAA is prepared on January 1 of 2022 to restore direct supervision and control over those manufacturing engineers and delegated authority because they that process should have started sooner, because it is a big oversight responsibility. I will have questions for you in the Q and A about that, and the type of personnel that we need in all of these jobs.

 “We don't believe the FAA has conducted the necessary workforce review for determining the staffing and experience of those levels. And the FAA has not taken steps necessary to limit the delegation of certification tax to industry until the FAA is verified all human factor assumptions.

 “Restating the law’s requirement in a two page memo is not what it takes to get that implemented. It might be a basic start, but where is proof of the implementation? This this level of reform is needed immediately. And the FAA has not fully implemented new requirements for applicants to disclose safety critical information —like information related to flight control systems—so that the FAA can be aware and fully assess the impact of those proposed design changes and innovation technologies.

 “Again, this went into the US Code and was effective immediately, but the FAA expects to issue guidance in 2022. We don't have time to wait. We need that kind of oversight today. And the FAA has yet to complete the work of the Independent Expert Panel, which was supposed to be convened 30 days from enactment to provide timely advice on whether the FAA should formally rein in Boeing's ODA authority.

 “I also would like to enter into the record a letter from the families who are actually calling for a pulling of that authority. I understand that there is a panel that is meeting now, but the process and procedures in place to review their actions and have it be transparent is critically important if we are going to get this right.

 “So all of these safety issues are critical to all of us in America. It's critical to our families who fly on planes, it’s critical to our economy. We need the leadership of the FAA, not just before our hearing today. The complexity that got us to this situation is a lot of complexity of language. In reality, it has to be leadership of FAA in implementing the law.”