Sen. Cruz: The FAA Must Move Quickly to Keep Up With Innovation

March 29, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In his opening statement at today’s full committee hearing titled “Advancing Next Generation Aviation Technologies,” Ranking Member Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) discussed the critical need for the FAA to modernize its Air Traffic Control system, not just to keep up with the current demands of our aviation system, but also to integrate new aviation technologies and innovation.

Sen. Cruz’s opening remarks as prepared:

“Thank you, Chairwoman Cantwell.

“Now is an exciting time to be involved in aviation. Americans are developing new technologies like air taxis, hypersonic planes, rockets, and better fuels, all of which have the potential to transform air travel. The benefits of these new technologies are wide ranging. They may enable more adaptable and comprehensive safety inspections for keeping the flying public safe. They may allow aircraft to fly more efficient routes, reducing emissions and cutting time off a trip. In fact, many aircraft, as we’ll hear today, may be able to fly using less fuel or new propulsion technologies.

“The FAA must move quickly to keep up with this innovation or risk stifling progress made by the private sector. I’ve heard more than once that better aviation technologies exist but aren’t used today because they are incompatible with the FAA’s legacy systems or the FAA has yet to certify them. We’ll hear today that innovative companies are going elsewhere because of FAA red tape. For example, some are leaving the U.S. for regulatory sandboxes in Australia or certification frameworks in the UK. This is antithetical to America’s ethos of innovation and embarrassing for businesses to be lost to other countries when we can’t get our act together.

“We must hold the FAA accountable for its role in certifying new aircraft and failure to give clear and consistent regulatory guidelines to nascent industries that rely on the FAA for direction. A key component of being ready for new entrants is having a National Airspace System capable of handling the sheer number of these aircraft, large and small. We need to ensure that our air traffic system has the capability to integrate these new aircraft.

“The FAA has spent nearly 20 years attempting to implement their latest air traffic control modernization effort, NextGen. What was once supposed to be a transformative upgrade to our air traffic system has become a tech refresh effort, plagued by delays and cost overruns, with limited benefit to the flying public. The conversation about what is required to integrate all these great new technologies is an important one. But we also need to have a conversation about whether we have a modern air traffic system that can meet the needs of not just new entrants, but of current users. Our priorities in aviation must be safety, reliability, and affordability.

“Two of today’s witnesses will discuss hydrogen and other forms of advanced propulsion. While these can be exciting technologies we should be wary of calls to provide taxpayer subsidies for them. When anything is subsidized by the government, the risk of wasting tax dollars is profound.

“We’re already seeing this happen with sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF. In last year’s wasteful tax-and-spend reconciliation bill, congressional Democrats provided nearly $300 million in grants and a special tax credit, varying between $1.25 and $1.75 per gallon, for SAF. Without these government handouts, SAF would not be commercially viable. Today, SAF costs up to eight times the cost of traditional jet fuel. If the economics of all SAF air travel were fully shifted to the flying public, no one could afford a plane ticket. SAF risks becoming the new Solyndra or cellulosic fuel. Cellulosic biofuels, which are different from traditional corn or soy ethanol, were supposed to be the future of gasoline. Even though they’ve benefitted from hundreds of millions of dollars of federal support and waived production requirements over fifteen years, they’re still not commercially viable.

“Here's one example of SAF’s costs for taxpayers. A Boeing 737 Max 8 holds 6,800 gallons of fuel and carries 175 passengers. Assuming 10 percent of the plane’s fuel is SAF, which is in line with President Biden’s stated goal, subsidized at $1.75 per gallon, that comes to a $7.00 per passenger SAF subsidy per trip. Here's one example of SAF’s costs for taxpayers.

“For what? Some projections suggest SAF will never be commercially viable without renewing and enlarging these tax credits at the federal and even state levels to further prop up the industry. I worry airlines are making commitments to use SAF in hopes that Democrats will continue to fleece taxpayers to subsidize the higher cost of SAF. Extending the SAF tax credit would be a bad deal for the millions of American families who don’t benefit from it. Even worse, I fear when the economic case cannot be made for SAF there will be some in Congress who then demand a mandate for it.

“Special interest groups and large corporations catering to ESG goals are the drivers of a market- manipulating SAF tax credit. We should not have taxpayers bear the cost for it.

“Thank you.”