Chair Larsen Opening Statement at Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on "COVID-19’s Effects on U.S. Aviation and the Flight Path to Recovery"
Washington, D.C., March 2, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen (WA-02) delivered the below opening statement at today’s House Aviation Subcommittee hearing entitled "COVID-19’s Effects on U.S. Aviation and the Flight Path to Recovery." More information about Tuesday’s hearing, including witnesses, testimony, additional background information and live webcast, can be found here.
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning and thank you to today’s witnesses for joining the Subcommittee’s first hearing of the 117th Congress on “COVID-19’s Effects on U.S. Aviation and the Flight Path to Recovery.”
Before we begin, I would like to thank my colleagues re-electing me to serve as Subcommittee Chair.
I look forward to working with Ranking Member Garret Graves to address the pressing challenges and new opportunities facing U.S. aviation.
Impact of COVID on U.S. Aviation
The pandemic has tested the resiliency of the U.S. transportation network like never before, and the aviation sector is no exception.
In my conversations with constituents and stakeholders, I hear about tragic loss, economic anxiety and profound challenges.
I have heard from airports like Bellingham International in my district, which experienced a 71 percent decline in enplanements last year when compared to 2019, and is expecting a cumulative loss of nearly $11 million in revenue.
I have heard from local aerospace manufacturing suppliers like Hexcel Corporation in Burlington, struggling to keep its doors open and employees on payroll due to halted production and stalled deliveries.
I have heard from a regional airline pilot from Marysville who is concerned about paying off his student loan debt, while caring for his growing family. While these issues in total may seem insurmountable, U.S. aviation, as it has done before, will persevere.
Snapshot of American Rescue Plan
Last week, the House passed the American Rescue Plan, a comprehensive aid package that gets more vaccines in arms, gives Americans a long overdue raise, enables working families to return to their jobs, and ensures communities can continue to maintain crucial services.
The package also provides urgent relief to sustain U.S. aviation and aerospace during the pandemic, and protect workers and restore lost manufacturing jobs, including:
What’s Needed to Restore Confidence in Air Travel?
As the nation works to safely get to the other side of this pandemic, ensuring safety and restoring confidence in air travel is key to the nation’s long-term economic recovery.
Keeping the flying public healthy from COVID-19 is even more difficult because of the lack of coordinated federal leadership by the previous administration.
The Biden administration has since taken actions to reinforce public health, including the requiring of masks on in airports and onboard commercial aircraft. I was also pleased the Federal Aviation Administration is taking a zero-tolerance enforcement policy against unruly passengers who disobey flight and cabin crew instructions during flight.
However, the federal government can – and must – do more.
A national aviation preparedness plan would ensure the safety of aviation crews and passengers in the event of a future public health crisis.
Following the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended the Department of Transportation work with relevant federal agencies to develop such a plan for communicable disease crises.
Although these federal agencies did not dispute GAO’s recommendation, they took no significant action to develop a preparedness plan.
Ms. Krause (GAO), I look forward to hearing about the benefits of a national aviation preparedness plan and GAO’s other recommendations to improve the safety of the traveling public, and minimize disruptions to the national aviation system.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has created fragmented travel requirements, resulting in a confusing system for passengers, U.S. airlines and flight crews to navigate. These challenges range from various acceptable COVID-19 test results to inconsistent quarantine periods.
To address these issues, digital vaccine and testing “passports” are gaining popularity.
Recently, major carriers such as United Airlines and American Airlines launched mobile apps which can enable passengers to show immunization records and recent testing results when traveling abroad.
Mr. Calio (A4A), I am interested in learning more about U.S. carriers’ efforts to develop these passports and what standards are necessary to scale up deployment.
I often say that the public health response will lead economic recovery.
Since last December, the Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorizations for three COVID-19 vaccinations. President Biden recently pledged to make nearly 600 million doses available by the end of July.
As COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration continues across the country, frontline aviation workers must be appropriately considered for access.
Captain DePete (ALPA), I look forward to hearing more about the essential role of airline pilots in U.S. aviation’s recovery and how improving access to vaccinations is critical to ensuring the safety of flight crews.
Next Steps for Long-Term Aviation Recovery
As U.S. aviation embarks on a “flight path to recovery,” the nation needs a bold, FDR-like investment in infrastructure to drive local economies, create jobs and fight climate change.
I am pleased Mr. Lance Lyttle, Managing Director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in my home state of Washington, is on today’s witness panel on behalf of AAAE.
Mr. Lyttle, I look forward to hearing more about the importance of federal investment in airports’ growing infrastructure needs and efforts to improve environmental sustainability.
U.S. aviation is also undergoing a historic shift with the continued growth of unmanned aircraft and the emergence of new airspace entrants such as Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), including electric aircraft which can help reduce traffic congestion by moving people and cargo at lower altitudes across regions.
While collaboration between the federal government, aerospace industry and other key stakeholders is ongoing, the safe integration of new entrants is far from complete.
Mr. Bunce (GAMA), I would like to hear more from you about Congress’ role to establish the comprehensive policy framework and investment necessary to foster innovation in U.S. airspace.
However, full economic recovery is only possible with continued federal support for the hardworking women and men of the aviation workforce and the next generation of engineers, pilots, mechanics and technicians.
Mr. Bolen (NBAA), I look forward to hearing more about ways to improve access to STEM-based apprenticeships, skills training and career and technical education programs to diversify and grow the U.S. aviation pipeline.
The American people are sacrificing greatly to combat COVID-19. They are counting on Congress to do its part to keep people safe and get the country to the other side of this pandemic.
I am confident that with Congress’s continued support, the U.S. aviation industry and workforce will be able to move toward long-term economic recovery.
Thank you again to today’s witnesses. I look forward to our discussion.