Chairman Rockefeller's Statement on Aviation Safety: The Hudson River Midair Collision and the Safety of Air Operations in Congested Airspace

September 15, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C--While the safety of our air transportation network has increased dramatically, several eye-opening incidents over the past few years are a serious reminder: We have more work to do. We cannot afford to be complacent. 
In recent years, the aviation industry has changed rapidly, and the federal government must keep pace. 
At a number of hearings this year, this subcommittee has examined the safety of commercial aviation operations.
From these hearings, a consistent theme has emerged: that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), aircraft operators, and Congress alike, must be vigilant and steadfast in our pursuit of one level of safety throughout the industry.
We have focused primarily on commercial aviation operations – and our efforts have led to new work toward improved safety practices, including the training and rest requirements for pilots.
But as the tragic incident over the Hudson River last month has shown us, we cannot ignore general aviation.
Nine people died in that midair collision between a sightseeing helicopter and a small airplane in congested airspace – a solemn reminder that with increasingly sophisticated aircraft and increasing congestion in major urban areas, comes increased risk for general aviation too.
I am concerned as well that there have been a number of general aviation crashes in my state West Virginia.
We have a responsibility to look closely at the safety risks across the nation and to respond.
These incidents also show just how important it is to move forward quickly when it comes to modernizing the air traffic control system.  New technology would greatly reduce the risks of operating in a congested environment and enhance the safety of air travel significantly.
The entire aviation community, both commercial carriers and general aviation operators must make every effort to achieve the highest level of safety possible.
The U.S. has always had the premier aviation system in the world and it has played an essential role in our nation’s economy. And the public’s trust in that system is essential to its success and vitality.
The only way to preserve that trust is by making sure safety is the top priority of all aviation professionals. 
This is our opportunity to make every aspect of aviation operations safer. Now is the time.
I’d like to thank the witnesses for taking the time today to speak to the Aviation Subcommittee and I look forward to hearing their testimony.