Sen. Cruz: The Flying Public Is Stuck with a Self-regulating and Flailing Agency Stuck in the 20th Century

February 15, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In his opening statement at today’s full committee hearing on “the Federal Aviation Administration’s NOTAM System Failure and its Impacts on a Resilient National Airspace,” Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) criticized U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s failure to deliver any meaningful reforms to the FAA and discussed the need for upgrades to the FAA and its air traffic organization in light of the unprecedented NOTAM failure that stranded thousands of travelers.

Ranking Member Cruz’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Chairwoman Cantwell, for convening this hearing today, and thank you, Acting Administrator Nolen, for appearing. While I look forward to hearing from you, I’m disappointed in the lack of a Senate-confirmed witness like Secretary Buttigieg, who ultimately oversees the agency responsible for the NOTAM failure.

“On the afternoon of January 10th, the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions system failed. About 15 hours later, after failing to reboot the system, the FAA ordered a full ground stop of the National Airspace System for the first time since September 11th. 22 years ago, the ground stop was because America was under attack. This more recent ground stop, meanwhile, was the result of a federal agency’s inability to modernize, despite Congress providing the requested resources to do so.

“The Washington Post called the ground stop “almost unprecedented” and said the FAA “learned long ago their systems were dependent on rickety foundations, but didn’t do enough to update technology…” Despite a similar outage in 2008, the FAA still has not improved the system. A technology specialist involved in the 2008 outage blamed “organizational inertia,” something I have heard many times before when people describe problems with the FAA.

“The Wall Street Journal said “given the importance of the FAA’s mission, this kind of failure is hard to excuse. If glitches happen all the time, why doesn’t the FAA have redundancies? Canada’s NOTAM system, operated by a nonprofit, experienced apparently unrelated problems the same day as the United States, but planes there kept flying.”

“The NOTAM breakdown last month was clearly a mistake. I fear it is emblematic of a culture afraid to innovate, stuck operating inefficiently, and illustrative of why President Biden needs to choose an administrator for the FAA with a proven ability to managing change within large organizations AND has the requisite aviation and safety experience. The FAA’s safety mission is too important to take for granted.

“There’s a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal today on the FAA’s inability to modernize NOTAM. In the story, an FAA spokesman claims that prioritizing NOTAM upgrades wouldn’t guarantee funding.

“That’s a lie.

“Congress has fully funded NOTAM modernization for more than ten years. Every year since 2013, Congress has given as much, or more than, the amount requested by the executive branch.

“And yet, full modernization is still several years away. After investing millions of dollars, I’m wondering why is this bureaucracy taking so long to do its job? And, is the system even worth modernizing at this point? Because the status quo is simply not acceptable. There must be accountability when an agency is not using taxpayer funds efficiently. That, of course, starts with an accountable leader.

“Now in his third year as Secretary of Transportation, Secretary Buttigieg has failed to deliver any meaningful reform to the FAA. Although NOTAM modernization started ten years ago, this administration seems focused on semantics. Whether it’s replacing the term “mother” with “birthing person” or creating a new checkbox on passports for people who claim to be neither man nor woman, this administration’s desire to signal its virtue knows no limit. It’s even infected the FAA. Instead of focusing on safety, the FAA and DOT were working hard to change NOTAM’s name from “Notice to Airmen” to “Notice to Air Missions.” Shockingly, this “reform of NOTAM” did not prevent an outage.

“In 1994, Al Gore proposed to reform the FAA into a self-funding, more efficient organization. Today, the flying public is stuck with a self-regulating and flailing agency stuck in the 20th century. It is my hope that we can use this hearing and the 2023 FAA reauthorization bill to explore meaningful reforms to the FAA and its air traffic organization.”