Cantwell, Wicker Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen FAA Oversight of Aircraft Certification

Bipartisan legislation strengthens FAA control, clarifies authority over certification process; strengthens safety and whistleblower protocols; eliminates industry-friendly panels, incentives; strengthens FAA technical capacity

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) today introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) oversight and improve aviation safety. The Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020 draws on lessons learned from the tragic Boeing 737 MAX crashes, making clear FAA’s oversight and authority over the aircraft certification process and including provisions to address human factors to accurately assess pilot response to cockpit alerts

“Safety is paramount,” said Cantwell. “A primary goal of this legislation is to make sure the FAA remains in the driver’s seat when it comes to certification.

“This bill makes it clear the FAA is in charge of the certification workforce and the approval process. Additionally, it requires the FAA to act on the NTSB’s recommendations on new safety standards for automation and pilot training.

“It’s critically important that the FAA keep pace with skill levels and new technology to oversee the certification process. The Human Factors Center of Excellence and Office of Continuing Education will help ensure FAA inspectors have the expertise they need to do their job.

“Finally, I want to thank the families of the victims of the tragic 737 Max crashes for their tireless advocacy that helped get us to this point. I also want to thank Chairman Wicker for his hard work in moving these reforms forward. I look forward to pushing these important changes into law.”

“After reviewing the evidence from accident reports, soliciting recommendations from aviation experts, speaking to witnesses and stakeholders, and holding a series of hearings on aviation safety, we are introducing bipartisan legislation that would take important steps to improve safety, especially as it relates to the manufacturing of passenger aircraft,” said Wicker. “I look forward to continuing to work with Ranking Member Cantwell to enhance safety for the flying public and avoid future tragedies.”

The Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020 will:

  • Give FAA more control and clarify its authority over the certification process by mandating direct FAA approval of manufacturers’ engineers acting on behalf of the FAA, the ODA unit members, and rescission of additional FAA authority to allow-self certification;
  • Assign FAA safety advisors to communicate with and monitor compliance of individual ODA unit members involved in the certification of large commercial airplanes, like the 737 MAX, and their engines;
  • Require implementation of new National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations on flight automation and pilot response, as well as safety management systems for aircraft manufacturers
  • Establish new whistleblower protections and fortify channels for reporting safety problems during the certification process, between industry and the FAA, and within the agency so that concerns of technical experts are heard;
  • Eliminate industry-friendly panels and roll back performance incentives that do not prioritize safety in the aircraft certification process as a first and foremost goal;
  • Build FAA technical capacity to address challenges of advanced technology, like automation in the cockpit, through the creation of a new Center for Excellence for flight automation and human factors; continuing education and training for inspectors and engineers on new technology; and increased funding for scientific and technical advisors.

The introduction of Cantwell and Wicker’s bipartisan safety legislation comes as the Commerce Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow – Wednesday, June 17 – with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson on FAA oversight of aircraft certification.

It also comes after 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 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.”

The text of Cantwell and Wicker’s bill is available HERE.