Cantwell FAA Bill Makes Flying Safer: Enhanced Oversight on Factory Floors, New Tech to Avoid Close Calls on Runways & Mandatory 25-Hour Cockpit Recordings

Bill includes top Cantwell priorities of more FAA oversight in aircraft manufacturing facilities & better tools for NTSB investigators

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, following months of negotiations led by Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for five years.

"Over the last 12 months, several incidents, including a door plug blowout, a string of close calls at airports, have made the public question where we are with aviation safety. We need to show them that we are asking for implementing and holding accountable the FAA to a gold standard for safety," Sen. Cantwell said on the Senate floor last week.

“[The FAA bill] requires new and manufactured commercial aircraft to be equipped with a 25-hour cockpit voice recorder. The standard today is just two hours. And what unfortunately happened in the Alaska Air door plug issue, is that in those short two hours, where people were in the aftermath of the confusion, that two hours was overwritten,” Sen. Cantwell continued.

“This bill continues to make reforms in aircraft certification to ensure that planes we fly meet the highest standards of the FAA.  To further the reform certification, we require the FAA provide public notice and opportunity to comment on significant aviation product design changes,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Additionally, we authorize $66.7 billion to boost the FAA's staff, and programs, and resources to strengthen the oversight of the manufacturing process.”

Watch Sen. Cantwell speak about aviation safety on the Senate floor:

The legislation prioritizes investments to make air travel safer, including provisions that would:

  • Mandate 25-Hour Cockpit Voice Recording Technologies: The bill requires commercial airplanes, including those newly manufactured, to be equipped with 25-hour cockpit recording devices to preserve critical data and inform future safety reforms consistent with NTSB recommendations. Currently, commercial airplane cockpit recording devices only record for two hours.  
  • Reduce Runway “Close Calls”: This bill requires FAA to deploy the latest airport surface situational awareness technologies that track runway aircraft and vehicle movements to prevent collisions, evaluate runway safety technologies, and increase deployment of technology such as Airport Surface Detection Equipment (ASDE-X) at airports.
  • Enhance Aircraft Certification Reforms: This bill builds upon the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act of 2020 (ACSAA) with new transparency, oversight, and accountability requirements to promote full compliance with FAA safety standards for designing and manufacturing aircraft.
  • Ensure Access to Data: This bill ensures that the NTSB will be able to obtain the recordings, recording information, design specifications, and other data it needs from entities that are subject to an investigation by the NTSB.
  • Reauthorizes NTSB: The bill provides NTSB $738 million to hire more investigators and conduct thorough investigations when accidents occur. 

Among the provisions to improve aviation safety, Sen. Cantwell’s landmark legislation also reauthorizes the FAA and NTSB for five years, supports workforce development, boosts innovation and R&D, and strengthens consumer protections. Full text of the bill is available HERE. 

Sen. Cantwell first introduced the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill on June 12, 2023, along with Sens. Cruz, Duckworth, and Moran, and the Committee passed the legislation with bipartisan support on February 8, 2024. The Committee held eight hearings to inform the bill’s drafting, including: Integrating new entrants into the National Airspace System on September 28, 2022, strengthening airline operations and consumer protections following the Southwest and holiday cancellations on February 9, 2023, modernizing the FAA’s NOTAM system following failures on February 15, 2023, overseeing aviation safety and the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act on March 8, 2023, strengthening the aviation workforce on March 16, 2023, enhancing consumer protections and connectivity in air transportation on March 23, 2023, advancing the next generation aviation technologies on March 29, 2023, and addressing close calls to improve aviation safety on November 9, 2023. The committee has also held two additional aviation safety hearings following the Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 incident; one with NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, and another with an expert panel of witnesses involved with the findings and recommendations from the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) Expert Review Panel’s final report.

Sen. Cantwell’s landmark Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act required the FAA to convene an independent expert panel to review the safety management processes and culture of ODA holders like Boeing and make recommendations to address any safety deficiencies.