Safety Legislation Update

By ALPA Staff

Following the tragic crashes of and loss of life from Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Congress has engaged in substantial investigations and hearings on matters related to these accidents. While the B-737 MAX’s maneuvering characteristics augmentation system (MCAS) has drawn the greatest scrutiny, investigatory efforts have also highlighted systemic issues with regard to aircraft certification, delegation of aircraft design, pilot training, FAA oversight of manufacturers, human factors, human-machine interface, manual flying skills, and the procedures governing the sale of aircraft. As a result, Congress has introduced, and will continue to introduce, numerous pieces of legislation to remedy perceived failures related to aircraft certification and design.

In the House, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has held two formal hearings and conducted a lengthy investigation into the accidents. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the committee’s chair, has been critical of Boeing, the company’s deployment of MCAS, the FAA’s oversight of the manufacturer, and the legal and regulatory regime governing aircraft certification and design. ALPA expects the committee will release a broad reform bill this summer that will serve as the primary piece of legislation the House will consider.

In the Senate, multiple pieces of legislation have been introduced. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced a comprehensive bill, the Restoring Aviation Accountability Act of 2020 (S. 3337). The bill requires an independent review panel with pilot representation to examine aircraft type certificates; an audit of FAA delegation; a requirement that a manufacturer release all information related to training requirements, materials, and operational procedures prior to selling the aircraft; enhanced whistleblower protections; banning exemptions from full-motion simulators; increased skills requirements for the delegation of FAA responsibilities in aircraft manufacturing; and retaining FAA authority over any type certificate issuance. ALPA endorsed this legislation because of its breadth, depth, and inclusion of pilots in the oversight of type certificates. Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) have introduced the Aviation Automation and Human Factors Safety Act of 2019 (S.2703), mandating safety recommendations from the NTSB and the Department of Transportation Inspector General related to increased flight deck automation, system safety assessments, pilot responses to flight deck alerts, and uncommanded flight control.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), chair of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, recently introduced the Aircraft Safety Improvement Act of 2020 (S. 3866). The legislation requires a rulemaking on safety management systems for aircraft manufacturers, a review of human factors assumptions, and review and establishment of best practices for the delegation of FAA functions. ALPA is reviewing this legislation and expects it to be an important part of the Senate debate for any certification and delegation reform effort.

This article was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Air Line Pilot.

Read the latest Air Line Pilot (PDF)