Cantwell Opening Remarks at NTSB Hearing on Boeing Accident Investigation, Other Investigations

March 6, 2024

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, delivered the following opening statement at today’s hearing on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the Alaska Airlines flight 1282 accident, the East Palestine train derailment and other ongoing investigations, with testimony from NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. Watch the hearing live here.

Chair Senator Cantwell’s Opening Statement As Delivered:

Good morning. The Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will come to order. Today, we’re having a hearing on the National Transportation Safety Board investigations and reports. I welcome the Chair Safety Board Director, Jennifer Homendy. Thank you so much for being here.

The NTSB is the nation’s safety watchdog – ensuring that safety is the top priority for the transportation industry and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Through its impartial investigations into transportation accidents the Board makes recommendations that have transformed transportation safety.

NTSB’s recommendations prompted action to require railroads to use positive train control, passengers to use seat belts, and commercial airlines to have well-rested crews.

However, the need to improve safety is ongoing. For instance:

  • Runway near misses and close calls in our aviation sector are far too frequent and we simply must do better.
  • The East Palestine derailment and inspections that have been less than lacking on the requirements to make sure that we really are looking out for these longer trains and tech improvements. And that is just frustrating given last Saturday’s Norfolk Southern derailment in Pennsylvania when three trains collided. 
  • And we’re are seeing a crisis on our nation’s roadways. In 2021, the latest data that we have, fatalities were the highest since 2005. In my home state, fatalities have increased 40 percent since the pandemic, and 70 percent in the last decade.

So while all of that is enough to think about we are urgently in need of an NTSB that is operating at full strength – with investigators that will use that expertise to help us plan for improved safety.

That is why this Committee has passed out our aviation bill with the reauthorization of the NTSB. And I want to thank you for your hard work in eliminating backlogs that we have seen at the NTSB, but clearly you need more investigators on the job to help. The FAA Senate bill, advanced by the Committee, also requires the FAA to finalize their 25-hour cockpit recording rule. Also, flight data recorders and improve with aviation safety inspectors from the FAA. I think these are important reforms that will be critical to the NTSB. And that’s why we are working hard with our House colleagues to finalize a House bill and send it to the president’s desk.

But obviously, the safety concerns of the flying public is probably the main focus of this morning’s hearing. Serious questions remain unanswered about the door plug accident on Alaska Airlines flight 1282. We need to be satisfied that manufacturers have strong quality controls and FAA oversight is robust.

The FAA and manufacturers, in my opinion, should listen to machinists and professional engineers who are asking for a stronger safety culture to improve certification and production quality. And we need to do everything to make sure they are not intimidated on the job to just keep the line moving.

Members have been briefed about the accident and this Committee will continue to do its oversight role.

On February 6, 2024, the NTSB released its preliminary report regarding the flight 1282. I appreciate its prompt investigation of the accident and its preliminary findings. The Committee continues to be concerned about the deficiencies in safety culture. I think probably also, articulated or illuminated by the individual report that was required by our ACSAA bill and was delivered just a few weeks ago.

The report implies that the Boeing facilities have significant, now I’m saying your report to be clear, implies that Boeing facilities may have significant deficiencies in record keeping and the investigation continues to determine what manufacturer documentations were used to authorize the opening and closing of the left mid-exit door plug during rework. In particular, we want to know about the disclosure of records that may show why or how it was improperly installed and what caused the accident 1282. Which raises questions that we’ll ask in the Q&A period, whether the documents even exist.

These are important issues that we need to get to the bottom of. There are lots of people in the Northwest, not just those who work at Boeing, but those who are involved in an aviation culture around our state. We want to get this right. So I’ll look forward to asking questions about this.

We also, in my opinion, need to continue the final report on the East Palestine that was helped informed by Senators Brown and Vance’s Railway Safety Act. We need to include speeding up the phase out of legacy tank cars that carry flammable liquids, requiring railroads to provide states with information about the hazardous materials, and we need to pass the Senate bill that highlights many of these things.  

I look forward to hearing more about the status of these investigations and what else we can do to make sure that the NTSB is fully operational and capable of  doing this investigative job.