Cantwell Emphasizes Need to Strengthen Aviation Certification Process

WASHINGTON, DC – Amidst recent reporting that senior Boeing executives claim they were unaware of specific details about flight control systems in the 737 MAX, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, today released the following statement on the need to strengthen the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) aviation certification process. The Commerce Committee will consider legislation Cantwell introduced to make critical reforms to the process at a mark-up on Wednesday:

“The revelations that company executives did not know the details of a key flight control system are disturbing. It shows that we need a sea-change in the analysis that is required at both the FAA and at any company manufacturing aerospace equipment. Only the best engineering process – one that requires the right technical expertise, robust system analysis, and an ample amount of time and oversight – will ensure the U.S. remains the leader in aviation and aviation safety.

“Legislation the Senate Commerce Committee will consider this week will include two major changes needed to strengthen the aircraft certification process: 

“First, the legislation strengthens the certification process under the Changed Product Rule by mandating a comprehensive systems-level analysis, which will help uncover problems like the ones we saw with the 737 MAX and make sure new technology is properly assessed.

“And second, a new oversight board of cutting-edge technology experts from leading research agencies outside the FAA — like NASA, the Air Force, and Volpe — will advise the FAA on assessments and analysis that are required to certify new and novel aircraft designs.

“Aerospace line engineers have the safety knowledge and are doing the job – executives need to listen to them.”

Cantwell has introduced multiple pieces of legislation to codify expert recommendations into law to improve aviation safety. In October 2019, she introduced a bill to implement aviation safety recommendations from the NTSB, U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (DOT IG), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that seek to address challenges related to increased automation in commercial aircraft cockpits, as well as how pilots respond to flight deck alerts and uncommanded flight control inputs.

Earlier this year, she introduced bipartisan legislation to create one-year paid aerospace policy fellowship roles for graduate and post-graduate students in Congress, at the FAA, and in other federal agencies to help build a pool of talent conversant in emerging technologies for the FAA and Congress to draw from as they make policy in the aviation sector. She also introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize the FAA to work with other countries to strengthen pilot training standards and enable the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to further enhance worldwide aviation safety and training standards.