Chair Larsen Opening Statement at Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on the "A Work in Progress: Implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018"

Sep 26, 2019 Issues: Transportation & Infrastructure

Good morning and thank you to the witnesses for joining today’s hearing on the implementation of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

One year ago, this Committee wrote comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to:

  • Raise the bar on aviation safety;
  • Improve the flying experience for the traveling public;
  • Better prepare and diversify the aviation workforce; and
  • Foster innovation in U.S. airspace. 

Today’s hearing is a critical milestone in the Subcommittee’s oversight work to ensure the timely implementation of the law, in accordance with our intent, and to address new challenges.

Although the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made some progress on fulfilling the law’s directives, ongoing implementation delays threaten the important work needed to advance U.S. aviation and aerospace and maintain our global leadership.

On our first panel of witnesses are Dan Elwell, the FAA’s Deputy Administrator, and Joel Szabat, Acting Undersecretary for Policy at the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mr. Elwell, Mr. Szabat, I expect your testimony will offer substantive updates on the administration’s efforts to swiftly implement last year’s law.

Witnesses on today’s second panel reflect a broad range of aviation stakeholders who are uniquely positioned to comment on what is working, what is not and what Congress can do to keep the FAA and DOT on track.

I expect we will cover a lot of ground, so let me walk briefly through a few of my priorities.

Safety is this Subcommittee’s top priority.

The FAA’s current aerospace forecast predicts passenger traffic will increase roughly 2 percent per year over the next 20 years.

Congress must ensure appropriate safety rules are in place to safely accommodate this demand. Notably, the lack of modern rest requirements for flight attendants remains a critical aviation safety issue.

The current regulation, issued in 1994, allows airlines to roster flight attendants for just eight hours of rest. Instead of modifying the 1994 final rule on flight attendant rest to provide at least 10 hours of rest by November 4 of last year, as directed in the bill, the FAA just this week issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) soliciting comments on the costs and benefits of compliance with the mandate. I am concerned this action is yet another unnecessary delay.

Deputy Administrator, I expect you can shed more light on the FAA’s decision-making related to this issue.

Further, I look forward to hearing more about the necessity of the ANPRM, particularly as some 15 airlines have already implemented the mandate or are currently working toward compliance.

The bill also requires the FAA to issue guidance to aircrews and mechanics on responding to incidents involving smoke or fumes in cabins, as well as commission a study on cabin air quality. These directives are overdue, so I hope you can provide an update on how the FAA plans to fulfill these mandates.

Congress must ensure that the FAA efficiently integrates unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which are rapidly emerging, into the national airspace system. But Congress must also ensure that integration is safe.

This Committee made the necessary reforms in last year’s bill to ensure the agency could move forward on a remote identification rule. Although rulemaking was initiated more than one year ago, the publication date has been repeatedly delayed.

In July, I joined Chair DeFazio and Ranking Members Sam Graves and Garret Graves on a letter to the FAA and Office of Management and Budget raising questions about the delays in issuing the remote ID rule. But our questions remain unanswered.

Deputy Administrator Elwell and Mr. Szabat, I expect you will provide us with those answers today.

Further, according to recent reports, the FAA, in partnership with three UAS test sites, has successfully completed test flights under phase 1 of the UAS traffic management (UTM) Pilot Program.

I look forward to hearing more about the lessons learned from this program to date and the potential impacts on the UAS industry.

As this Committee continues to support technological advances in U.S. aviation, the success of these efforts is possible with investment in the next generation of engineers, pilots, mechanics and innovators.

The FAA Reauthorization Act includes a comprehensive workforce development title, including my provision to create a new task force to encourage high school students to enroll in aviation manufacturing, maintenance and engineering apprenticeships.

With global aviation becoming more competitive, I am concerned by the FAA’s lack of progress on this mandate, as well as continued delays to establish a Women in Aviation Advisory Board to encourage women and girls to pursue aviation careers.

Improving access to workforce training and diversifying the aviation workforce is an all-around win for employers, job seekers and the aviation and aerospace sectors.

The FAA Reauthorization Act includes numerous provisions to improve the air travel experience for the more than 900 million passengers who fly in the United States each year.

For years, I have championed efforts to improve accessibility of air travel for passengers with disabilities.

I was pleased to see the reauthorization act included a robust title focused on improving the “curb to curb” experience for these passengers.

However, the Department’s commitment to these goals has been rightly called into question, as significant delays on rulemaking for several of these key mandates persist.

Moreover, the public is still waiting for final action on a rulemaking to ensure passengers with disabilities can access lavatories on single-aisle airplanes—action that I required in the 2016 FAA extension.

Additionally, last year’s act improves safety for the traveling public and airline employees by addressing sexual harassment and assault through open reporting and increased accountability.

There is no doubt that the FAA, DOT and this Committee have our work cut out for us.

Timely implementation of the long-term reauthorization act will provide stability for the nation’s aviation community, support the advancement of new technologies, improve American competitiveness, and above all, ensure aviation safety.

Thank you again to today’s witnesses, and I look forward to our discussion.

Chair Larsen remarks as delivered can be found here.