March 27, 2019

Duckworth Questions “Culture of Coziness” in Federal Aviation Safety Oversight During Senate Hearing on Boeing 737 MAX Series


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a general aviation pilot and combat Veteran, raised questions about a perceived lack of oversight into the development and federal approval of the Boeing 737 MAX series aircraft today. During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing today, Duckworth grilled the Acting Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about international pilot training standards, as well as what steps can be taken to prevent similar problems from risking human lives in the future. Video of her remarks is available here.

 “At this time last year, the FAA was widely viewed as the ‘gold standard’ for safety in the aviation industry but it is becoming clear that these tragedies resulted from a cascading chain of failures—from manufacturer to regulator to airline,” said Duckworth. “We must ensure each and every weakness in this chain is addressed, not just one of them. And we must work end the culture of coziness in aviation safety oversight to help prevent similar tragedies from happening again.”

 Today’s hearing took place in the Aviation and Space Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and it featured testimony from the Acting Administrator of the FAA, the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board and the Department of Transportation Inspector General.

 Duckworth and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with 15 other Senators, also sent a letter to today to the Boeing Company inquiring about the manufacturer’s on-going practice of charging airlines extra for safety-critical systems important to the operation of an aircraft. According to media reports, the 737 MAX 8 aircraft involved in the Lion Air crash in October 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines crash earlier this month lacked two safety features that could have helped the pilots recognize false readings from the sensors connected to the aircraft’s new flight control system. The FAA and other aviation regulators did not require these features to come standard on the 737 MAX 8 and 9, the foreign air carriers involved in the crashes did not include them in their aircraft and Boeing treated these systems as optional features that airlines could purchase for an additional fee.

 “We have serious concerns that extra costs for these and other critical safety features—such as backup fire extinguishers in the cargo hold and oxygen masks for flight crews—may discourage airlines from purchasing them,” wrote the Senators in the letter to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg. “Safety must be a standard part of our fleets, engrained in every bolt, sensor, and line of code on an aircraft. Safety features on jets that fly hundreds of passengers should never be sold as a la carte add-ons.”

 Joining Durbin and Duckworth on today’s letter include: Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).