Cantwell to Administrator Dickson: “We Need an Independent FAA”

In hearing one day after introducing bipartisan legislation to strengthen FAA oversight, Cantwell demands FAA Administrator make reforms to improve safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. – One day after introducing bipartisan legislation to reform and strengthen Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight of aircraft certification, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, demanded FAA Administrator Steve Dickson take needed steps to prioritize safety at FAA. In her remarks, Cantwell stressed the need for reforms and criticized the FAA for failing to adequately respond to the multiple reports and investigations presented to the agency regarding the Max accidents.

“Safety is job one. It’s job one in a critical sector that employs 2.5 million people—150,000 in the state of Washington—but safety is job one because it involves so many lives. There have been numerous reports issued since the accidents, and unfortunately, the FAA response to a number of those investigations concerning the MAX seem more a rigid acceptance of the status quo than the needed changes that we want to see at the FAA.”

“No matter what the structure of the FAA, it must be clear that it is an independent agency with oversight of certification,” Cantwell continued.

Legislation introduced yesterday by Senator Cantwell and committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) draws on lessons learned from the tragic Boeing 737 MAX crashes, making clear FAA’s oversight and authority over the aircraft certification process. The bill also includes provisions to strengthen safety oversight procedures; address human factors to accurately assess pilot response to cockpit alerts; eliminate industry-friendly panels and incentives; establish new whistleblower protections; and give FAA more technical resources.

In her questioning with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, Cantwell stressed the FAA’s responsibility to have direct contact and communication with aviation employees in charge of aircraft production as well as whistleblowers: “We need an independent FAA. We need the lines of communication between these whistleblowers…But if you don’t have a direct line to that employee, and you don’t approve him in the final, and you don’t oversee his work, and you don’t have the right expertise at the FAA, then he’s not going to be backed up by you.”

Dickson replied, “I could not agree more.”

Michael Stumo, the father of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302 crash victim Samya Rose Stumo, also testified at the hearing. In Senator Cantwell’s questioning with him, she asked what he thought of ensuring that the FAA is in the driver’s seat when it comes to certification and oversight over employees and processes. Mr. Stumo replied, “When you have Boeing appointees only and they’re siloed only on the Boeing side, the safety culture can get totally overwhelmed by the profit and timelines pressures, which always exist, but you’ve got no one else. You’re a Boeing engineer, you’ve got to respond to the Boeing manager and you don’t have the FAA’s side, because you don’t even know who they are…Delegation’s been around a long time, but we’ve got to rebalance it in the way that your bill has stated.”

Senator Cantwell has been a strong advocate for increased aviation certification and 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. She also blasted a report put out by the Department of Transportation on aircraft certification and wrote to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao that the process was in “clear need of improvement.”

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

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Administrator Dickson can be found HERE and audio is available HERE.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A with Mr. Stumo can be found HERE and HERE.