Chairman Rockefeller's Opening Remarks on Aviation Safety: The Role and Responsibility of Commercial Air Carriers and Employees

June 17, 2009

The tragic accident of Flight 3407 is a chilling and horrific reminder that the aviation industry and Congress must be vigilant in maintaining the safety of the air transportation system.
I am proud to say that last week this committee held a safety focused hearing examining the roles and responsibilities of the federal government in making certain the aviation industry adheres to the very highest safety standards. 
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) made several commitments to address the safety concerns raised by the accident: the agency is renewing its dedication to safety and made specific promises to identify and promote best practices, examining the adequacy of current standards for pilot training and experience, and revisiting recommendations on crew fatigue made by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
As critical as the government’s role in the safety of the air transportation system is, however, the air carriers must be equal partners in making certain the air transportation system functions safely.  It is the airlines that develop and implement the safety programs, hire and train the pilots, and operate and maintain the aircraft.  Much of the responsibility for the safety of our aviation system rests with them.   
Airlines must make commitments to embrace the best practices across the industry if they are going to improve safety in a meaningful manner. 
Critical safety activities, such as the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), Flight Operation Quality Assurance (FOQA) program, and the Line Operations Safety Audit (LOSA), are conducted by most large air carriers and absolutely must be adopted throughout the entire industry. 
Regional carriers, in particular, need to make a commitment to implement these programs and the FAA and the larger airlines must also pledge to work with the regional air carriers to help them move forward with these activities as quickly as possible. 
The airlines must do all they can to promote these safe practices and foster a culture of extreme safety throughout their organizations to make sure their workers act with the highest professional standards and view safety as the fundamental value guiding their work every single day.
Congress, and this committee, will be watching the industry closely, and I expect progress to be made.
I also believe that we in Congress need to hold ourselves accountable for our role in making sure the air transportation system functions safely.  For our part, we must move forward with FAA reauthorization legislation that will accelerate the modernization of the air transportation system.
NextGen will produce dramatic safety gains by providing both pilots and air traffic controllers more precise information on aircraft location and weather patterns in real-time.  This technology will produce substantial environmental and efficiency improvements for the industry.
The U.S has always been the world’s leader in aviation, and to continue this tradition we must take concrete action to preserve the public’s trust in the safety of the air transportation system. 
Now is the time to move forward with meaningful action.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today and I’d like to thank them for taking the time to participate in this hearing.