Subcommittee on Aviation Chair Larsen Statement at Hearing "Putting U.S. Aviation at Risk: The Impacts of The Shutdown"

You can view Rep. Larsen’s remarks here.

Good morning and thank you to today’s witnesses for joining the first Aviation Subcommittee hearing of the 116th Congress.

Nineteen days ago, the partial government shutdown ended, but left significant consequences to the U.S. aviation workforce, industry and economy in its wake.

But, we have a forward-looking aviation and aerospace agenda for this Congress. 

In fact, it was my intention for the first hearing of this Subcommittee to begin exploring that agenda that included: ensuring aviation safety, fostering innovation in U.S. airspace, improving U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace; and enhancing the air travel experience for passengers.

This agenda is still my agenda, and this Subcommittee will continue to pursue it.

However, the recent shutdown shed new light on its impacts on the aviation industry and workforce.

But the roots of this hearing go back at least to the 2013 and that shutdown under a Democratic Administration when FAA employees were furloughed, and air traffic controllers worked without pay. 

Even then, we were trying to find a way to shield this most critical part of the government from future shutdowns.

The purpose of this hearing, then, is two-fold. 

First, I want to ensure this Subcommittee creates the public record of shutdown impacts on the aviation and aerospace industry. 

The panel assembled here today is in the best position to explain these impacts.

I would note that the shutdown has delayed this Subcommittee’s work. FAA furloughs have delayed implementation of last year’s FAA authorization, which in turn delays the oversight mission of this Subcommittee.

The shutdown has also delayed planning for this Subcommittee’s trip to the FAA Technical Center to observe their critical research to improve the safety of the National Airspace.

The second purpose of this hearing is to build the case for H.R. 1108, the Aviation Funding Stability Act of 2019. 

I want to ensure that the FAA has the resources and funding stability needed to preserve the safety of the Nation’s aviation system.

Throughout this most recent shutdown, I met with the dedicated women and men of the aviation workforce and did hear about the harmful impacts the shutdown had on their lives.

One constituent from Bellingham, Washington shared with me that her brother, an air traffic controller, worked more than 60 hours a week, without pay, during the shutdown. Her brother faced severe mental and physical stress wondering when his next paycheck would come.

Aerospace companies in Northwest Washington state let me know they feared they would need to suspend production.

Local aviation safety personnel showed me their pay stubs for $0.

And another air traffic controller with whom I met had to dip into her children’s college savings to get by.

During the shutdown, thousands of air traffic controllers, engineers, technicians and critical safety personnel were working without pay.

U.S. aviation is the gold standard of flight because of these skilled individuals. Their work ensures the safety of the traveling public and efficiency of the U.S. airspace.

As I noted, the FAA was unable to begin implementation of Congressional mandates in the FAA Reauthorization, such as requiring ten hours of rest for flight attendants, further integrating new users into the airspace and setting up rules to address sexual harassment of employees, passengers and crew.

Furloughed FAA inspectors were unable to approve new aircraft, aviation products and infrastructure, hindering U.S. global competitiveness.

The FAA’s work on streamlining the certification process for aviation and aerospace products, came to a halt.

No new Airport Improvement Program grants could be issued, hurting projects to modernize and maintain airports.

As the full Committee heard last week, federal aviation infrastructure investment falls short already of growing needs. 

Washington state alone needs over $190 billion in infrastructure investments, with aviation projects requiring $12.6 billion.

Congress must do what it can to ensure the FAA, its employees and the U.S. aviation economy are protected from another government shutdown. 

So to this end, Committee Chair DeFazio and I introduced legislation that authorizes the FAA to continue to draw from the Airport and Airway Trust Fund (AATF) during a funding lapse and operate at current levels with no Congressional action required.

The partial government shutdown unnecessarily hurt American families and jeopardized the safety of the largest, busiest and most complex airspace system in the world.

To use a metaphor, the lights must stay on at runways across the United States.   

I appreciate the witnesses for taking the time to join today’s discussion and for your work during the shutdown.

I look forward to hearing more about the impacts on your members, and how Congress can support you in the future.

It is my hope that with this hearing, this Subcommittee will have made its case that the shutdown impacts are harmful to the economy and that the Aviation Funding Stability Act is the mechanism to shield the FAA and the aviation and aerospace economy from detrimental impacts of future shutdowns. 

And I look forward to getting this Subcommittee back to its forward-looking agenda of ensuring aviation safety, fostering innovation in U.S. airspace, improving U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace, and enhancing the air travel experience for passengers.