Chairman Rockefeller's Remarks on Aviation Safety: The Relationship Between Network Airlines and Regional Airlines

August 6, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The crash of Flight 3407 outside Buffalo, New York, in which 50 people lost their lives, serves as a tragic reminder that the aviation industry and the federal government must work vigilantly to maintain the safety of the air transportation system.
This Committee recently held two hearings examining the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) oversight of the airlines and each carrier’s role in guaranteeing the safety of its own operations.  This hearing will focus on the relationship between the major, or network, airlines and their regional airline partners.
Aviation safety improves greatly when we work together – the federal government, the airline industry, the workforce, and the passengers all have a critical role to play in this effort.  In the past, we have made our greatest progress when the FAA and the airlines worked in concert with one another.  Programs such as the Aviation Safety Action program (ASAP) and the Flight Operation Quality Assurance (FOQA) program are good examples of this cooperation, but more work remains to be done.
Today, I hope we can foster a dialogue that will strengthen the resolve of all air carriers and other stakeholders to find ways to further improve the safety of operations conducted under code-share agreements.  Airlines can greatly improve our aviation system’s safety by sharing best safety practices and serving as an additional check on the safety of their code-sharing partners.
Approximately 90 percent of the passengers travelling on regional airline flights purchase their tickets from a major air carrier.  However, those passengers are often unaware that the major carrier that sold them their ticket is not actually operating their flight. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses about how we can better disseminate information about which carrier is actually operating their flight.  More importantly, I’d like to determine if there are further steps we can or must take to ensure there is one level of safety throughout the commercial air transportation system.
I am proud that we have taken the initial steps to move forward FAA reauthorization legislation that is focused on modernizing the air traffic control system, strengthening safety requirements and improving air service in rural areas of the country.  Each of these areas can help promote significant improvements to the safety of air travel.  My fellow original co-sponsors, Senators Hutchison, Dorgan, DeMint, and I have worked hard crafting this bill over the past few months.  We will work diligently to make sure Congress passes this bill, and I look forward to taking this measure up on the Senate floor in the near future.
I appreciate the airlines’ willingness to be here today to discuss this important issue before Congress.  It’s important to note that the air transportation system has, statistically, never been safer.  The airline industry depends on the passengers’ confidence in the safety of the system, and I think this open forum will help to reinforce that confidence with the travelling public.