Sen. Cruz Chairs Hearing on The State of Airline Safety: Federal Oversight of Commercial Aviation
I, chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, recently chaired a hearing titled, "The State of Airline Safety: Federal Oversight of Commercial Aviation." There, I launched the committee's investigation to examine the safety of the commercial air transportation system and find ways to improve it. I have openly expressed my concerns surrounding the recent tragic plane crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia and my commitment to ensuring the safety of the traveling public:
I, like everybody else, am deeply concerned about these two crashes that took over 300 lives. And so, I'm chairing this hearing with the acting head of the FAA and the relevant government officials to inquire really what went on. We shouldn't jump to conclusions. But when you have over 300 people whose lives have been taken, it was the right thing to do to ground the planes. I called for them to be grounded early on, and the FAA ultimately agreed with that determination. But, our priority has to be the safety of the flying public.
Watch Sen. Cruz's introductory remarks here. A transcript is below:
On March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 departed out of Addis Ababa airport with 157 souls on board. Among them were parents and children, reverends and international aid workers, and college students with their entire lives ahead of them. But at 8:44am, six minutes after takeoff, what should have been a routine two-hour flight, turned into a tragedy. Flight 302 crashed, killing all 157 people.
Although devastating on its own, the tragedy of flight 302 was compounded by the fact that something like this had happened less than six months earlier. Lion Air Flight 610 had been in the air just twelve minutes before plunging into the Java Sea at 6:32am on October 29, 2018, killing all 189 people on board.
The 346 men, women, and children lost in these tragic crashes came from 35 different countries, ranged in age from the elderly to the unborn, and had professions as diverse as their backgrounds. But they did have one thing in common, they were all traveling on a brand new plane, a Boeing 737 MAX.
It is truly unfortunate that today's hearing is necessary and I wish we didn't have to be here today, but our first priority in aviation must always be the safety of the flying public. The fact of the matter is that the - that these crashes and subsequent reports on how the 737 MAX was approved have badly shaken consumer confidence.
In aviation, as in other industries where a small mistake can have catastrophic consequences, trust is the currency of the realm - trust of the flying public and the safety of the aircraft they step onto, trust of our international partners and the diligence and thoroughness of our regulatory bodies, and increasingly, trust of our regulatory bodies and the quality and truthfulness of the data and certifications provided and performed by industry.
Not only have the recent crashes shaken the confidence of the public but the questions that have been raised in the aftermath about FAA's oversight of aircraft manufacturers, the certification process for planes, and the close relationship between industry and regulator threaten to erode trust in the entire system.
It is incumbent on us as legislators, as regulators, and as industry leaders to work to ensure that does not occur. Today's hearing takes the first step down that road by seeking to answer some fundamental questions.
First, we need to understand exactly what happened, both in these specific crashes and with the certification process for the MAX aircraft so that we can take action to keep something like these tragic crashes from occurring again.
Second, we need to look at the aviation safety space more broadly and identify where we can and should make improvements. We need to answer or at least begin to answer questions like is the FAA taking the right approach to the oversight and certification of aircraft manufacturing, operations, and repair, particularly with regard to Designated Authority?
Also answering how safe is commercial aviation, both in the United States and internationally, and how can we increase the level of safety and even further and how can we restore the confidence and trust of the flying public, both in the United States and internationally?
As our witnesses today will highlight their testimony, commercial aviation in the United States today is as safe as it ever has been. Worldwide, and particularly in the United States, the likelihood of being in a fatal commercial plane crash is infinitesimally low, and this is a record that we can and should be proud of.
But this record is also exactly what makes the recent crashes and reports of lenient oversight by the FAA so frustrating. As a nation, we had been on such a promising upward trend in safety. That - although these crashes occurred in foreign countries, the questions that have been raised about the integrity of our regulatory processes strikes right to the heart of aviation safety here at home.
We need to do better and I firmly believe that we can.