The United States is currently in the midst of an “aviation safety crisis,” in the words of Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) (above at right), chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation, Operations, and Innovation within the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
[Above photo by AASHTO]
Speaking at the 2024 Washington Briefing held by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in Washington, D.C., Sen. Duckworth pointed to several areas where she believes Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration need to take action when it comes to air travel safety issues.
“We very much are in an aviation safety crisis; I’ve used that language before,” she said. “In fact, the FAA did a whole safety review at the beginning of last year because of that. So there are several things we need to tighten up.”
The senator – who lost her right leg near the hip and her left leg below the knee from combat injuries sustained in 2004, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents – noted that one of those “several things” is giving the FAA greater authority in terms of their oversight of aviation.
“A lot has to do with manufacturers self-certifying aircraft like they did with the [Boeing 737] Max 8 and we had problems with that. I’ve been pushing the FAA to really step up,” Sen. Duckworth said.
“Getting an FAA administrator [confirmed] in was absolutely critical,” she added. “Look at what’s happening with the [Boeing 737] Max 9s; he stepped right in and grounded those aircraft immediately. And so having a strong, decisive FAA administrator I think was critically important” to improving aviation safety.
[Editor’s note: The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued a preliminary report on the in-flight structural failure recently suffered by Alaska Airlines flight 1282; a Boeing 737 Max 9 aircraft that suffered left mid exit door plug blow out on takeoff, forcing the airplane to make an emergency landing.]
Sen. Duckworth also stressed that upgrades to airport infrastructure need to be made across the country. “We need ground radar at all of our at all of our airports. We still have air airports that don’t have ground radar and that’s a problem,” she said. “And there’s money in [our] FAA reauthorization bill for that.”
Finally, she touched on the aviation workforce issues that need to be addressed.
“It is a combination of more and a better workforce. We need more air traffic controllers. That’s part of the problem. We need better experienced pilots. That’s part of the problem. We need more equipment. That’s also part of the problem,” Sen. Duckworth noted. “The key thing is we have a bipartisan deal to quadruple the funding for workforce development that’s in [our FAA reauthorization] bill.”