Before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation: Three Years After Lion Air 610: FAA Implementation of the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability

Administrator Stephen M Dickson (August 12, 2019 - present)

Oral Testimony

Good morning, Chair DeFazio, Chair Larsen, Ranking Member Graves, and Ranking Member Garrett Graves (SP) and Members of the subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the FAA’s approach to aviation safety oversight and our efforts to strengthen the aircraft certification process. Safety is a journey, not a destination, and we are constantly evolving as a regulator and an air navigation services provider to deliver the safest and most efficient aerospace system in the world. 

One of the first things that I did as FAA Administrator was make it clear that we are the regulator and I reset the relationship with Boeing. I said that we would continue to exert a high level of scrutiny and that continues to this day. I’ve made it clear that we are raising the bar on safety, externally and internally. We’re asking ourselves the hard questions and we’re asking them of those we regulate. We will not accept the status quo. 

We are committed to improving the robustness of the certification process, including our oversight of the functions we delegate to aircraft designers and manufacturers. To that end, we embrace reform and we are focused across the agency on continuous improvement. I will discuss a number of initiatives that we have underway and the work we have completed to address this goal as well as to implement the requirements of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. 

But first I want to take a moment to repeat my commitment any my thanks to the families of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air accidents—and to this committee—that we, at the FAA, are constantly working to ensure that the lessons learned from these accidents are resulting in a higher margin of safety for the aviation system around the world. In the nearly three years since these tragedies, we have made tangible and lasting safety improvements to the global aviation system, in part from the input and direction we have received from the Congress and this Committee—and there is much more to be done. 

The Act has more than 100 unique requirements that we are implementing to make aircraft certification and safety oversight more holistic, systematic, transparent, and effective. I can say with confidence that we are doing more for certification oversight, and we are doing it more systematically, since this time last year. 

For one, we are delegating fewer responsibilities to manufacturers and demanding more transparency from them. We continue to value their technical expertise as we prioritize our oversight to focus on safety critical areas. 

The FAA is also revising guidance and criteria used for determining significant changes so that proposed changes to an aircraft are evaluated from a whole aircraft system perspective, including human interface elements. 

We are promoting the use of safety management systems, or SMS—where safety issues are actively looked for and identified, and then the root cause is addressed. As part of this rulemaking, we will also evaluate potential SMS requirements for repair stations, certificate holders that conduct common carriage operations under part 135, and certain air tour operators under part 91. 

We are also making progress with industry participation in voluntary SMS programs. Currently, four design and manufacturing organizations have voluntarily adopted SMS, with six others in progress. Boeing also established a voluntary SMS program as part of the settlement agreement. What we learn from all of these programs will directly benefit our rules and policies.  
The FAA has initiated a rulemaking to standardize regulations and guidance for conducting system safety assessments on transport category airplanes. The FAA is taking a fresh look at the human factors assumptions we’ve been using for the design and certification of transport category aircraft—including pilot response times.    
We are actively expanding our portfolio of data collection and analytics tools so we can more effectively share safety data within the FAA and among industry stakeholders and international partners. Data is key to the early identification of potential hazards and safety problems, and per the Act, we have a new contract with the Transportation Research Board that will help us discover emerging safety trends in aviation. 

Since aviation is a global system, the FAA is also working closely with the International Civil Aviation Organization and other international stakeholders to influence and adjust the maintenance and pilot training requirements for U.S. products operating under other civil aviation authorities. 

Chair Larsen, Ranking Member Graves, and each member of the Committee, as you can see, the FAA is fully committed to a thorough and complete implementation of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. We approach all of this work with humility and do not take safety for granted. However, we are not just doing this work because you have directed us to do it; we are doing it, because it is the right thing to do for aviation safety. This is what the public expects and it is the standard we have set for ourselves. We will accept nothing less.

Thank you again for your support and direction. I am happy to answer your questions.