Sen. Cruz: 737 Max Crashes Are Stark Reminder of Why an FAA Leader Must Have Deep Technical Expertise

March 8, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In his opening statement at today’s full committee hearing titled the “Implementation and Oversight of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act,” Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) discussed the FAA’s reforms in the wake of the Boeing 737 MAX tragedies and highlighted the importance of confirming an FAA administrator who has the knowledge and understanding needed for implementing critical reforms. President Biden’s FAA nominee, Phil Washington, lacks such expertise. 

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

“In October 2018, 189 people were killed when a Boeing 737 MAX airplane crashed into the sea after it took off from Jakarta, Indonesia. Just four months later, in March 2019, another Boeing 737 MAX crashed after departing an airport in Ethiopia, killing all 157 people on board. Today’s hearing reminds us of the terrible toll these crashes took on the victims and their families, as well as the life and death consequences of the FAA’s aviation safety mission.  

“Soon after the Ethiopian crash, I was among the first members of Congress to call for grounding the MAX. It needed to be grounded until aviation experts could determine what had caused the crashes and guarantee that the flying public would be safe. I stand by that decision. It gave the FAA time to correct critical design flaws in the MAX and help make it safer.

“After multiple MAX investigations, it became clear that the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization, or ODA, process, which gives manufacturers the authority to certify compliance with FAA design standards, needed to be reformed. Reforms were needed to strengthen FAA’s oversight of the ODA process, improve communication between ODAs and the FAA, and prevent agency capture. The investigations also found a need to better address human factors in the overall design of aircraft in this era of increasing automation.   

“In 2020, Congress enacted the Aircraft Certification Safety and Accountability Act (ACSAA), or ACSAA, to require such reforms at the FAA. Just this week the FAA proposed a rule to implement a key provision of ACSAA, based on an amendment I wrote, that will close safety gaps in the aircraft certification process by requiring amended type certificates to disclose all proposed changes in a single document. This is an important step to avoid confusion or miscommunication. This Committee must remain vigilant in making sure the FAA appropriately implements the reforms made in ACSAA.  

“It has been said many times, aviation safety regulations have been written in blood.  In the case of the reforms contained in ACSAA, that is sadly the case.  Today, I want to hear from FAA Acting Administrator Nolen what steps the FAA, and the aviation industry, are taking to ensure that we don’t just respond to crashes, but also take proactive measures to prevent future tragedies.  

“This Committee should use the upcoming FAA reauthorization process to evaluate what additional reforms, if any, are needed to accomplish the goals of ACSAA. But we should also use reauthorization to examine ACSAA’s regulatory impact on manufacturers, both large and small. 

“Like many members of the Senate, I fly multiple times a week. The numerous recent near-misses by airliners this year are very troubling. Since Administrator Nolen testified before us less than a month ago, there have been two more known near-misses. That’s six so far this year. 

“In response, Administrator Nolen is convening a safety summit with aviation leaders next week. I look forward to reviewing any recommendations that come from that meeting. 

“The 737 MAX crashes and the problems at the FAA that were subsequently uncovered are stark reminders of why it’s so important to have an FAA leader with deep technical expertise. You simply cannot entrust the role of protecting millions of Americans who fly with a person who needs on-the-job training. It’s irresponsible. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what we have with President Biden’s FAA nominee, Phil Washington.

“His hearing last week confirmed what’s abundantly clear in his resume: he lacks the aviation experience to lead the FAA. He was unable to answer basic safety questions about the 737 MAX crashes, aircraft certification, and how a pilot might react when a system malfunctions. It’s no mystery why. 

“Unlike other FAA administrators, including Administrator Nolen, who has decades of aviation experience, Mr. Washington has never flown a plane, never worked for an airline, and never earned certificates in aviation safety. His much-vaunted job as CEO of Denver’s airport—which he’s held for less than two years—primarily involves overseeing the airport’s shopping, dining, parking, and buildings, not aviation matters.  

“It isn’t just Republicans who have raised concerns about Mr. Washington’s lack of qualifications to lead the FAA. At last week’s hearing, multiple Democrats on this Committee did as well—and rightfully so. The safety challenges and responsibilities of the FAA are far too important to have anyone other than a highly experienced aviation expert at the helm.  

“I would leave my Democratic colleagues with this thought. As you listen to Administrator Nolen testify today ask yourselves this question: Could Phil Washington come anywhere close to Administrator Nolen’s expertise and knowledge? The honest answer is “No.” And that answer leads to one conclusion: to keep the flying public safe, the Senate must reject Mr. Washington’s nomination.”