Press Release: 2020-02-26
Blumenthal, Markey, Udall Lead Legislation to Overhaul Aviation Industry Self-Regulation
BLUMENTHAL, MARKEY, UDALL LEAD LEGISLATION TO OVERHAUL AVIATION INDUSTRY SELF-REGULATION
Bill would create new commission to prioritize consumer safety, ensure robust oversight of the aviation industry & provide expanded whistleblower protections and incentives
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Tom Udall (D-NM), members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, introduced comprehensive legislation revamping oversight of the aviation industry to prioritize consumer safety. The Restoring Aviation Accountability Act would reform the federal government’s role in certifying safety in the aviation industry following two Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes – Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 – that killed 346 people within five months.
“Reform is vital to putting aviation safety first,” said Blumenthal. “Returning power to federal regulators is a necessary first step to restore accountability, but only one step toward comprehensive reform. Left to its own devices, the aviation industry has put corporate profits before consumer safety. When safety is inexcusably compromised like it was by Boeing – certification rushed, whistleblowers gagged, critical information deliberately concealed, speed and earnings prioritized – lives are tragically lost and families devastated. The system in place is broken and we must make it right before more lives are lost.”
“The two tragic crashes of the 737 MAX killed 346 people and revealed systemic flaws in our commercial aviation system. Today we honor the memories of those victims, and pledge to their families and the whole flying public that we will restore accountability in the skies. Safety must always be our number one priority, and I am proud to join Senator Blumenthal in introducing this essential legislation,” said Markey.
“The two tragic Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes revealed substantial weakness in the FAA certification process and a cozy culture with industry that pushed speed and profit at the expense of safety. This utter debacle cost hundreds of lives and billions of dollars—proving that we cannot rely on aircraft manufacturers to regulate their own safety standards.” said Udall. “The American people expect the FAA to be tough, independent and uncompromising when it comes to their safety, and this new bill would restore integrity in the FAA’s certification process while restoring the flying public’s faith in American aviation. I hope the Senate Commerce Committee can come together and approve a strong bill in the near future to protect all people who use air travel to visit their families, conduct business, and see the world.”
This legislation is supported by a number of aviation industry groups, including the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), Government Accountability Project (GAP), the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).
“The Restoring Aviation Accountability Act of 2020 upgrades aviation whistleblowing protections to parity with all other federal whistleblowing statutes passed in the last two decades. Beyond implementing an incentive system for reporting and ensuring individuals aren’t gagged from reporting wrongdoing, the bill offers best practice retaliation protections for an expanded class of whistleblowers, and in certain cases allows these folks to make their case before a jury of their peers. The Government Accountability Project is proud to endorse this legislation and heartily recommends its passage. We thank Senator Blumenthal and his staff for their dedication to protecting and encouraging overseers’ eyes and ears on the ground and in the air,” said Government Accountability Project Deputy Legislative Director Irvin McCullough.
“ALPA applauds Senator Blumenthal for his work on the Restoring Aviation Accountability Act of 2020. This bill is a safety-first measure that makes a number of improvements in the aviation system, including aircraft certification, delegated authority and the oversight of the FAA’s certification process. In addition, the legislation more directly involves those on the front of lines of keeping our skies safe – airline pilots – in the aircraft certification process. ALPA looks forward to working with other safety-minded leaders like Senator Blumenthal to see this bill enacted into law,” said president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l Capt. Joe DePete.
“TWU was the first union to call for grounding the MAX because our members saw how unsafe the system that approved that plane was. This bill would address those systemic problems and help ensure that airline workers and travelers have a safe experience on our aircraft,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen.
The Restoring Aviation Accountability Act effectively reverses the provisions enacted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, which allowed the aviation industry to regulate many of its own certification processes. As a result, Boeing’s automated system MCAS, which has been widely recognized as the cause of the deadly Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes, was never fully analyzed by the FAA while Boeing downplayed its risks.
Among a number of reforms, the Restoring Aviation Accountability Act would:
- Establish a commission to review the current FAA safety delegation program (ODA) to determine and evaluate if alternative certification programs would provide more robust oversight.
- Increase the accountability measures of the current safety oversight system by requiring that pay, compensation, and bonuses for officers and employees of the FAA are not contingent on delivery of airplanes, the number of aircraft certified, or the number of audits completed. Prohibits safety certification system employees of manufacturers from having performance standards tied to delivery of aircraft.
- Bolster whistleblower incentives and protections in the aviation industry for employees, contractors, and subcontractors of aircraft manufacturers, aircraft repair stations, and the FAA by providing whistleblowers with access to court for a jury trial and monetary incentives for information that leads to a successful resolution of a complaint.
The full text of the legislation is available here.
Blumenthal has raised numerous concerns regarding the aviation industry’s ability to “self-regulate,” writing directly to Boeing and calling for an Inspector General (OIG) investigation to audit the process by which the FAA certified the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. The full text of Blumenthal’s letter to the DOT OIG is available here.
In an October hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, Blumenthal questioned Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg over internal Boeing emails showing the company knowingly concealed fatal MCAS system from pilots and then blamed “pilot error” for the tragic Boeing 737 MAX crashes. Blumenthal also pressed Muilenburg for a firm commitment to support reform efforts to restore oversight of aviation safety to federal regulators. When Muilenburg refused to answer, Blumenthal pressed him, saying, “I’m not asking you for a hard look. I’m asking you for a commitment here because you have the opportunity to make things right.” The video from the October hearing is available for download here.