Cantwell: “For the United States to be the leader in aviation, we must set the global standard for aviation safety.”

February 15, 2023

Senator adds: We have a barrier problem here. We need more women in aviation.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s hearing with Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen on last month’s FAA NOTAM system failure and ensuring the safety and security of our nation’s airspace.  Cantwell also pointed to the lack of diversity in aviation, calling for continued work to encourage more women to enter the aviation industry.

For the United States to be the leader in aviation, we must set the global standard for aviation safety. 

We know there is work to do. There have been a number of recent incidents that highlight the importance of making safety the top priority. Last week we saw how technology issues can impact airline operations and the traveling public. 

Today, we welcome acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen to the Committee to help us understand what went wrong with the NOTAM system and what actions FAA is taking to make sure this never happens again.

We need to make sure the agency has the necessary resources to modernize its IT infrastructure and ensure a safe, efficient, and reliable network.

Mr. Nolen should understand the challenges we face. 

On January 11th, Mr. Nolen ordered the first nation-wide ground stop since 9/11. And this was a significant event, more than 1,300 flights were canceled and more than 9,500 were delayed.

Prior to leading the FAA, Mr. Nolen served as the head of the FAAs Office of Aviation Safety with over 1 million registered aircraft, over 1 million active pilots, and over 50,000 flights every day. The Aviation Safety Office has a very big job.

As an experienced airline pilot, Mr. Nolen understands the importance of the NOTAM system. These notices provide real time safety information, flight operations, and without access to this information, safe aircraft operations really are not possible.

This hearing, like last week's, which I believe still shows the investment in technology that needs to be made, Southwest could have updated their system and didn't and a critical event happened.

Now we want to make sure a critical event like [what] happened with our NOTAM system also doesn't happen. And how do we keep our economy moving forward?

These incidents are concerning. They impact Americans confidence in our aviation system and our aviation infrastructure is critical to American safety and security.

So we need to accelerate building a National Airspace System for the 21st century, something this committee is going to work on as it relates to the FAA reauthorization bill. And the 2023 authorization bill will give us many opportunities to talk not just about this issue, but other issues but our appropriator colleagues also have to do their job.

Over the last several years Congress has met or exceeded the administration's budget request for the FAA facilities and NOTAM. But Mr. Nolen will talk today about additional funds, why Congress needs to paint a clear picture about the needs of our Airspace System for the future.

To be sure, the FAA must have redundancies, and not a single point where a failure can happen in a key system like we just saw. And we have to have a responsibility to ensure that every taxpayer is provided a maximum value on return.

Therefore, we must see clearly the obstacles ahead and a path to make sure that we have this most modernized system.

Today's discussion on NOTAM and national airspace are really part of a bigger picture. I'm sure there will be other issues that come up today as events of the last several weeks have pointed out the roles of FAA in our airspace system working with DOD and others.

So we look forward to the questions and opportunities to have you before the committee to address these important timely questions.


Senator Cantwell also recognized the importance of diversity in aviation:

We have a barrier problem here. We need more women in aviation.

And fewer than 10% of the licensed pilots are women about 5% of airline pilots, 3.6% of airline captains.

So I just want to say how proud I am that two Naval Aviators that flew over the Super Bowl were from Whidbey Island and Whidbey Island [Naval] Air Station.

But I do think that [the] [change] is in the right direction. And we need to do more to encourage more women in aviation.

VIDEO of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement here

VIDEO of Senator Cantwell statement on women in aviation here.