WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a full committee hearing titled “Implementation of Aviation Safety Reform” at 10:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, November 3, 2021. This hearing will examine the urgency of implementing aviation safety, certification, and oversight reforms mandated by the Aircraft, Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act (“ACSAA”) of 2020. The Committee will discuss the approach of the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) to effectuating ACSAA and its work to implement provisions of the legislation in accordance with congressionally-mandated timelines. Topics such as the FAA’s delegation and certification processes, safety culture, and systems oversight practices since the passage of ACSAA will be covered.
- The Honorable Steve Dickson, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
Wednesday, November 3, 2021
Committee Hearing Room, Russell 253
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Chair Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce hearing on the Implementation of Aviation Safety Reform
Witnesses: Steve Dickson, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration
November 3, 2021
Rough Transcript: Opening Statement
Cantwell: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will come to order. 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 administration, 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, about 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 a 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, in 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? And 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.
Now we'll turn to my colleague, Senator Wicker for his opening statement.
Rough Transcript: First Round of Question and Answer with the Witness
Cantwell: Thank you, Administrator Dickson. On the bill itself – just, I want to get to some basic yes and no’s, if I could. The legislation in our mind and crafting it was a clear stop of what we thought was a continuation towards more delegation and a return closer to the elements of what DER was. Do you agree yes or no?
Dickson: I would agree with that. Yes, we have restricted, we have limited the amount of delegation that we're doing, particularly in the case of Boeing, and we're looking at across the entire ODA system as well.
Cantwell: So would you answer these questions? Has the FAA completed a workforce review recommended by the Department of Transportation IG in 2015, as it relates to your workforce needs?
Dickson: We are in the process of completing that review, in the context of the certification reform legislation. As I said, we have increased our number of human factors, experts almost doubled our cadre there. We have done a review of our chief scientists and technical advisors, and using them as well. But, but that review is ongoing. And I look forward to working with the committee as it is completed, because I think that we need to continue to make sure that that's a dynamic process.
Cantwell: Well, we had a deadline for September 23, 2021, and certainly you could have written to Congress and said, we can't meet that deadline. But having a workforce that you know is the technical oversight necessary to do the reviews, we think is step number one. And when we look at the lack of technical oversight on certain issues in a changing, dynamic aviation market, this is really problematic. And I think in Mr. Won's letter, he's basically talking about the fact that 53 people in an oversight office of 1500 people on such the scale of aviation manufacturing is not enough, would you agree?
Dickson: We have increased our number of engineers in the BASOO and our engineers and on the production line as well. And we will continue to evaluate all of that going forward.
Cantwell: This, this is the language I don't like. Okay, we had a deadline. We would have loved to see an assessment of the workforce. Something that would have said to Congress, here's where we think we're coming up short, here's what we think we need to do. So today, just like all the other IG reports, and everything else, the comments back from the FAA, are, “we're working on this.” We want to get on the same page about needs. We're about to go into our appropriation process. And even though we have authorized various things in the past, we have appropriators who end up cutting these very necessary functions for the FAA to do a good oversight role. But if we just say for a deadline of September 23 of this year, we're continuing to work on it in the future, it hasn't given us the ability to hold you accountable. And that's what we're going to do. We have to do that because we need this system to work effectively for everybody for safety and for, for economics. So I want to get to the, because my time is going to dwindle down here are the critical, critical safety functions. And this was something our House colleagues worked on as well and put in civil penalties for violation of disclosure of this information. And what, I guess what I'm saying is your process right now is following a TAB process, you know, the same process of oversight and collection by individuals that led us to the MCAS system. That group didn't catch MCAS. And what we've written into law is that we want an integrated system, if you will, some people call it gray beards, and we want those people at the beginning of the process. We want them reviewing the critical information and determining whether more oversight needs to be done. So do you think that your TAB process is a fulfillment of the law?
Dickson: We are adapting the TAB process to comport with the legislation. So it is, it is a good starting point, but these, this integrated project team that you're referring to is, is definitely a part of what we are doing going forward and how we are organizing ourselves, both for future certification projects and for projects that are ongoing now.
Cantwell: But we have certification going on right now.
Cantwell: So why wouldn't you have made a big priority setting up a critical information certification team now for the ongoing certification projects? The reason I'm bringing this up is, again, we've seen two instances here where you're going to issue a report from whistleblowers before the end of the year. And what we're hearing from whistleblowers is the same that we've heard from the IG and others, and that is that line engineers had early warnings, whether it's the 787 battery issue, or whether it was this issue related to synthetic airspeeds or the complexity of automation and overload of pilots in the system. But those line engineers weren't listened to. And that's what, why we want this critical information system and integrated set up immediately.
Dickson: Yes, ma'am. And the voluntary safety reporting program that we've had in place is one mechanism. But the, but the integrated program reviews are ongoing now and that will be a big part of both existing projects and the new certification project.
Cantwell: I will come back to this, but I want to go to my colleagues, but I just, I just want you to know I'm not going to allow the law to be skirted here. This issue is about whether you're going to follow a process that allows us to see the work of the FAA, see that it's completed and not just hear, it's ongoing. Thank you, Senator Wicker.
Rough Transcript: Cantwell Remarks
Cantwell: Thank you Mr. Chairman. And administrator, your answer on SMS is exactly what I'm talking about in skirting the law. It's been long known that we need to implement a mandatory SMS system. So a voluntary system is not enough. The DOT IG found recently on October 21, 2021, the FAA oversight over SMS was not effective.
So I think my colleagues questions here are not about whether you can do a voluntary system. Again, when there is an oversight of a true SMS system required by an Administrative Procedures Act, overseen by the FAA, you will be seen as how you hold them accountable and we will be able to review that. Anything less is not meeting the letter of the law.
The Honorable Steve DicksonAdministratorFederal Aviation Administration