February 3, 2016

Statement of Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety

Before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Transportation and Public Assets Subcommittee Hearing


As prepared for delivery.

Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Duckworth, Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on the issue of oversight of aviation credentials. I know this issue is of significant interest to Chairman Mica because we’ve appeared before Congress on this issue under Mr. Mica’s leadership in 2013.

The mission of the FAA is ensuring the highest levels of safety for the millions of passengers traveling across our airspace system every day. The Agency is charged with the oversight of airlines and aircraft manufacturers, the safety of our nation’s airports and the training of our air traffic controllers. Taken together, we operate the safest and most efficient airspace system in the world.

The FAA issues 23 different types of airmen certificates, including those to pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, flight attendants, and air traffic controllers. There are more than 800,000 active pilot certificate holders alone. A pilot certificate is a credential, attesting to the training and competence of the pilot. It is the same as a lawyer who must have evidence of admission to the bar; a doctor who is board certified in a specialty; or even a beautician who must meet state or local licensing requirements. In all these cases, the credential is not used as identification media and it does not impart security access to court rooms, to operating rooms or to airports. A pilot never uses his or her pilot certificate to gain access to airport areas. Instead, he or she uses the security credential issued by the airport as required by TSA.

Since 2002, the FAA has taken actions to enhance the security of pilot certificates. We require pilots to carry a valid Government issued photo I.D., in addition to a pilot certificate, whenever they are flying. This allows an FAA inspector, or others to confirm both the pilot’s identity and his or her pilot qualifications.

The FAA phased out paper certificates by incorporating tamper- and counterfeit-resistant features including micro printing, a hologram, and a UV-sensitive layer. In 2010, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to require a photo on all pilot certificates and to improve the process for getting a student pilot certificate.

While we were preparing that Final rule, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act required that the pilot certificate accommodate fingerprints and iris, and comply with specific security standards. Unfortunately, our 2010 proposal did not include these security requirements. To allow pilots to comment on the full statutory mandates we needed to draft a new proposal.

However, the security and intelligence communities determined that allowing student pilots to operate an aircraft as pilot in command in the national airspace system prior to being vetted, was an unacceptable security risk.The Administration committed to closing that security gap andlast month the FAA published a final rule requiring student pilots to appear before an FAA inspector or other authorized designee to verify the student's identity. The student pilot certificate will be issued once TSA completes its vetting.

We recognize that the 2012 legislation included specific direction to improve the airman certificate and we regret that we are not further along in the rulemaking process to implement those provisions. But as our 2013 Report toCongress outlined, there are major challenges to implementing the Congressional direction. While the National Institute for Standards and Technology has issued standards for the collection of iris images, there are no GSA-approved products for the collection or use of iris biometrics. Before we require collection of biometrics, we need to understand where and how they would be used.  

There are no requirements that airports use iris or other biometric information for authorizing access at airports. Neither the FAA nor TSA has estimated the cost to develop and install such an infrastructure at the nearly 550 airports eligible for Federal grant funds, or the more than 5,000 airports that are open to the public. As part of our rule to require biometrics,we’ll have to estimate what the cost of that system will be to the airports and to the taxpayer.

In our Report to Congress and the preliminary work we have done on the rule, we estimated new certificates will cost more than $1 billion over 12 years. As Congress and this Administration are committed to minimizing the costs to the public of Federal actions, that cost estimate alone may be our biggest challenge.

The reality is that to include biometric information on pilot certificates drives cost and may not be the most effective way to meet our security objectives. I can assure you that pilots are properly trained. We rely on TSA and the intelligence community to address security risks.

The FAA has worked with TSA to develop options to accomplish the Congressional direction. We will work to get a proposal—although demonstrating benefits to justify a billion or more dollars in costs will be difficult. We will keep the Congress informed of our progress.

That concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to address your questions.

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