Cantwell Grills FAA Administrator on Delays, Missed Deadlines in Implementing Aviation Safety Reforms

Cantwell: “I’m not going to allow the law to be skirted here.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, grilled Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator, Steve Dickson, regarding missed deadlines and delays in implementing safety reforms mandated by the Aircraft, Certification, Safety and Accountability Act (“ACSAA”) which became law in December 2020.

“That is why we’re here today to have this hearing: to determine whether the federal administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, has faithfully and vigorously executed the safety reform law in accordance with congressional mandates for deadlines and action,” Senator Cantwell said. “It said that we needed to have a stronger FAA oversight, the people in place to do that job, and to hold manufacturers accountable. Directing the FAA, and making sure that that job is done is critical.”

Senator Cantwell was underwhelmed by Administrator Dickson describing so much of the bill implementation as being “in the process Senator Cantwell said, “Has the FAA completed a workforce review recommended by the Department of Transportation IG in 2015, as it relates to your workforce needs?”

Dickson responded, “We are in the process of completing that review, in the context of the certification reform legislation… but that review is ongoing.”

“This, this is the language I don’t like. Okay, we had a deadline. We would have loved to see an assessment of the workforce. Something that would have said to Congress, ‘Here’s where we think we’re coming up short, here’s what we think we need to do,’ [but] the comments back from the FAA, are, ‘we’re working on this,’ [which] hasn’t given us the ability to hold you accountable. And that’s what we’re going to do,” Cantwell responded. “…I just want you to know I’m not going to allow the law to be skirted here.”

In the second round of questioning with Dickson, Cantwell asked him about staffing issues in the Seattle-based FAA office, “I don’t see the workforce improvement at the Seattle office that you’re describing… So how have you, since these accidents, improved the Seattle Oversight Office?”

Dickson responded, “Well, again, I will get you the current numbers, but we have increased our resources.”

“According to my information, the DOT OIG report of February of this year, said there’s only been one engineer added to the Seattle office since the MAX tragedies. So I think there’s some resolution here of what’s really the fact and information so I’ll look forward to getting that information from you,” said Senator Cantwell.

Senator Cantwell has been a congressional leader in the push for aviation safety and certification reforms. She has introduced multiple pieces of legislation to codify expert recommendations into law and improve technical expertise to improve aviation safety – many of which were incorporated into the final text of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act which was signed into law in December 2020.

In 2020, she also 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. The same year, she also introduced bipartisan legislation to authorize the FAA to work with other countries to strengthen pilot training standards and enable ICAO to further enhance worldwide aviation safety and training standards.

The letter from Ian Won to the Boeing lead regulatory administrator is HERE.

The letter from ET-302 victim’s families can be found HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s opening statement is available HERE, audio is available HERE.

Video from the first round of questioning is available HERE, audio is available HERE.

Video from the second round of questioning is available HERE, audio is available HERE.

A full transcript of the opening and both rounds of Q&A is available HERE.

A summary of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act, with explanations of key provisions, can be found HERE. The full text of the legislation can be found HERE, starting on page 2903.