Larsen Opening Statement: Aviation Subcommittee Hearing on “Options for FAA Air Traffic Control Reform”

Mar 24, 2015 Issues: Transportation

WASHINGTON— Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, the Ranking Member of the Aviation Subcommittee, delivered the following statement at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee’s hearing, “Options for FAA Air Traffic Control Reform.” The remarks are as prepared for delivery.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling this hearing to explore alternatives to FAA air traffic management.

I appreciate our continued bipartisan cooperation as we move toward a timely FAA reauthorization bill.

Today we will hear from our witnesses with a variety of ideas about how to improve efficiency and certainty in the management of our nation’s airspace.

I welcome any discussion of what we need to do to keep our airspace the most efficient and safest in the world.

But before we address that, we must ask ourselves: what is the problem we are seeking to fix?

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported last year that 71 of 76 aviation stakeholders said the air traffic control system is “very” to “extremely” safe. 

Today, no one will argue that the airline industry is the healthiest it has ever been–due largely to the efforts of the industry and FAA to improve efficiencies over the last decade.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects that airlines worldwide are expected to make a collective $25 billion profit in 2015.

IATA also suggests that U.S. carriers will continue to set the standard for financial performance, with the highest profit margins worldwide.

That is good news, since a healthy airline industry is critically important for our international competitiveness.

We are also living in the safest period in aviation history.

Every day, U.S. airlines safely transport about 2 million passengers around the country.

And with the important safety improvements that Congress mandated following the tragic Colgan Air crash in 2009, the aviation system is getting ever safer.

At the same time, NextGen implementation has faced hurdles, but I want to be clear: FAA is making progress. In fact, GAO reported last year that only five of 76 aviation stakeholders said they had little to no confidence in the FAA’s ability to implement NextGen. 

This time last year, we were uncertain when we would see a plan for implementing DataComm.  Now, in response to a tasking by Chairman LoBiondo and me, the FAA has a plan, with industry support, to implement DataComm. 

This time last year, we were uncertain about the path forward for performance-based navigation (PBN) procedures.  Now, again in response to our tasking, the FAA has a plan—with industry support—for accelerating PBN procedure implementation. And the list goes on.

Airlines are making money, the system is safe, and the FAA, with close Congressional oversight, is making progress on NextGen.  So the question must be asked – what is the problem we are tackling when we talk about reforming our air traffic control system?

When I talk to 10 stakeholders, I hear about 14 different problems. 

And when I talk to even just one stakeholder about proposed solutions such as the private corporation model – I immediately think of at least 14 problems, including: 

  • What bargaining protections would apply to the employees of the new entity?
  • Would employees maintain their federal benefits?
  • How would the new organization work seamlessly with the FAA to move NextGen forward?
  • What kind of liability insurance would the new entity have?
  • How would the new entity coordinate with the Department of Defense in a time of crisis?
  • Would small communities be guaranteed service as the new entity gains efficiencies by closing towers?

So I want to make sure that we are all clear on whether we should address many problems with one solution, or whether we should address those problems individually.

We must make sure that FAA reauthorization is not a science experiment. Because with 2 million passengers in the skies on any given day, we must remember what is at stake if we make any changes to our safe air traffic control system. 

If we resolve to go big in this bill with significant air traffic reforms, we must do so methodically—with a clear statement of the problem we are trying to solve and a clear understanding of how to solve it without compromising safety in any way.

Finally, I want to note something that is not a surprise to anyone here.

We have six months to pass an FAA bill.

There are many issues to address with ATO reform, and I do not think any of our witnesses will tell us today that the diverse interests in the industry are coalescing around a single proposal.

Without that happening, I find it difficult to foresee an on-time FAA reauthorization bill if we are to tackle this topic.

If stakeholders want to push for this proposal, they need to put something on the table, or risk heading us down the chaotic path of multiple, short-term FAA bills as we had before the most recent reauthorization. And that will only contribute to reform proponents’ claims about the damaging impacts of unstable and unpredictable funding. 

I am hopeful we will make progress on these issues today.

I yield back.