Larsen Opening Statement at Aviation Subcommittee Hearing

WASHINGTON—Aviation Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, delivered the following statement at the opening of the Subcommittee’s hearing on the Federal Aviation Administration:

Thank you, Chairman LoBiondo, for calling today’s hearing on implementing the FAA reauthorization bill. Mr. Chairman, we had an excellent cooperative relationship working together last Congress on the Coast Guard Subcommittee. I very much look forward to continuing that relationship in our current roles as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Aviation Subcommittee.

At the outset, I should point out that I did not vote for the FAA reauthorization bill, because it amended the Railway Labor Act in a way that I believe will harm the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

That said, the FAA bill did provide much-needed, stable, long-term funding for federal airport infrastructure grants.

Additionally, the bill provided new policy direction for NextGen air traffic control modernization, and established a process for safely integrating new technologies like Unmanned Aircraft Systems into the national airspace system.

The FAA bill also included several provisions to ensure that the agency is adequately staffed and that its workforce is adequately trained.

Additionally, I want to praise Administrator Huerta and his staff for their efforts to extend occupational safety and health protections to flight attendants in their high-altitude workplace, as mandated by the FAA bill.

Democrats on this Committee fought to include that mandate in the final conference report, and I was pleased that the FAA published a proposed policy statement last December and solicited public comments. I hope a final policy statement will be adopted in short order, and I look forward to hearing from Administrator Huerta on where we stand now in extending long-overdue legal protections to tens of thousands of flight attendants. I look forward to receiving a status report on how all these important provisions are being implemented.

Mr. Chairman, it does concern me that the bill’s successful implementation is about to be derailed due to looming spending cuts. At its heart, the reauthorization bill is a funding bill – a multi-year authorization of funding for the agency. Yet, we are only a few days away from budget sequestration, which will mean several-hundred-million-dollars in automatic cut for this year below the funding levels Congress authorized in the FAA bill—and there will be even larger cuts going forward.

Absent the authorized funding levels, the FAA’s priority in the next few years may not be implementing the FAA bill, but managing a self-inflicted budgetary crisis while attempting to safely downsize the U.S. aviation system.

Long-term investments in new technologies that Congress sought to advance in the FAA bill may be postponed and the delivery of some critical NextGen systems could be delayed for years to come.

According to the FAA, sequestration will result in the furlough of a large number of air traffic controllers, technicians, and aviation safety employees that will cause travel delays and disruptions. Service at over 200 air traffic control towers could be eliminated. These furloughs could also impact aviation manufacturers who need FAA safety certifications for new NextGen technologies.

Aviation manufacturing is a significant driver of the economy in Washington state, so I am particularly concerned about the sequestration’s effect on this part of the industry.

The FAA’s greatest asset is its people. The FAA’s dedicated and professional workforce operates the largest, most complex and safest aviation system in the world. However, one-third of the FAA’s total workforce will be retirement-eligible in 2014. The possibility of furloughs, accompanied by pay and benefit cuts, could cause many devoted FAA veterans to throw up their hands and say “I’m done!”

Administrator Huerta, as you consider managing the agency with increasingly scarce budgetary resources, I would urge you to prioritize investment in your people.

The FAA must continue to invest in the training, development, recruitment and retention of a world class 21st Century workforce.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from our witness.