WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, the House Aviation Subcommittee took a closer look at the state of American aviation.
The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) answered questions from members of the committee about recent incidents, staffing shortages, aircraft maintenance, close-calls and much more.
“Our number one priority is safety,” said FAA Michael Whitaker.
Safety was front and center for the House Aviation Subcommittee hearing this week. Lawmakers say recent events have highlighted the need for transparency and accountability.
“The need to be vigilant on safety came clearly into focus on January 5th, with the incident involving Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, when the left-mid cabin door plug blew out of a Boeing 737 Max 9 shortly after departure,” said Whitaker.
Lawmakers also questioned Whitaker about the ongoing air traffic controller shortage.
“We know that air travel is increasing and yet the number of air traffic controllers is not,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D- NV).
“Last year we saw an uptick in significant safety events, including runway incursions and close calls,” said Whitaker.
Whitaker said air traffic controllers are stretched thin. He affirmed the FAA is doing what it can to attract more workers to join their training pipeline, like reaching out to and coordinating with schools and universities for younger candidates. Replenishing the ranks could mean fewer close calls and accidents.
“Increasing our controller ranks will help mitigate risks associated with controller fatigue,” said Whitaker.
There’s no shortage of challenges facing American aviation, but the FAA chief believes more personnel and better oversight of company’s like, Boeing, could go a long way.
“I guess I would say in retrospect, and given what happened with the plug door, it’s hard to call that oversight sufficient,” said Whitaker. “We now have 20 inspectors on the ground in Boeing engaging with the employees at every phase of the manufacturing process.”