Thank you, Chairman Collins. This is a timely hearing given the unresolved safety issues that have led to two fatal airline crashes and the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.
Every possible measure must be taken to ensure the aircraft is safe before it is allowed to return to the skies.
It is critical that Boeing and the FAA get this right in order to restore public confidence in both the aircraft and the certification and oversight process.
Failure to do so will jeopardize continued U.S. leadership in the aviation sector and FAA’s standing as the gold standard for safety.
A New York Times investigation report released last weekend describes “a broken regulatory process that effectively neutered the oversight authority” of the FAA.
You can see the deference granted to industry reflected plainly in a joint industry/FAA Product Certification Guide published in 2017, which highlights “how an Applicant and the FAA can begin a transition to a state where there is progressively less direct involvement of the FAA in the compliance activities of the Applicant.”
In its article, the Times goes on to say that “at crucial moments in the Max’s development, the agency operated in the background, mainly monitoring Boeing’s progress and checking paperwork…Boeing was treated as a client, with FAA officials making decisions based on the company’s deadlines and budget…FAA engineers found they had little power, even when they did raise concerns.”
These allegations are grave and speak to the need for a culture change that rebalances the relationship between regulator and industry.
The need for a culture change appears to extend beyond the FAA’s certification program. The DOT Inspector General is raising alarms on the FAA’s oversight of the air carrier maintenance program.
Specifically, the IG raised concerns that the FAA had shifted its safety strategy from emphasizing enforcement actions to a more relaxed compliance assistance model to help air carriers address the “root causes for noncompliance of safety regulations.”
In doing so, the FAA’s current guidance allows inspectors to close safety compliance actions out before validating that the corrective action has been implemented and is effective.
FAA also lacks a centralized database for inspectors to identify, track, and monitor safety violations and compliance.
This leaves a huge gap in FAA oversight of air carrier maintenance activities.
To add to the many challenges the FAA faces today, there are very few technologies that are developing as rapidly as unmanned aviation systems (UAS) or drones.
Drones are changing the way we do business – helping farmers monitor their crops and improving the way we inspect pipelines and railroads – and have the potential to revolutionize the delivery of goods in this country.
These are exciting developments. But there is also growing concern about the incidents being reported in the news – whether it’s a drone flying dangerously close to a passenger airplane or a drone with a camera flying over someone else’s private property.
The FAA needs to establish clear “rules of the air” to safely integrate this technology into our airspace and there is a lot of catching-up to do.
UAS technology is evolving so quickly and we need to know that the FAA is keeping up and responding strategically.
I look forward to hearing about your progress in this issue area, particularly in mitigating the risk of drones in and around airports. I know the Blue Ribbon Panel on UAS Mitigation at Airports interim report was just released and I am interested to hear your reactions.
I look forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today.
The FAA is certainly facing many challenges ahead in an increasingly complex airspace.
I am hopeful that with your leadership we will sustain the leadership role of the United States in having the safest, most efficient aviation system in the world.
Thank you, Madam Chairman.