The State of Aviation Safety and Congress: Part I

The Subcommittee on Aviation of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure conducted a February 27 hearing on the safety of the National Airspace System (NAS), including progress made and challenges that still need addressing. Officials form the following organizations provided testimony at the hearing: FAA, NASA, NTSB, the USDOT Office of Inspector General (OIG), and the Airline Pilots Association International (ALPA). Although the following link to the hearing is available on Committee’s website – – we are pleased to provide the following summary for our Plane-ly Spoken readers.

At the hearing’s outset, Subcommittee Chairman LoBiondo acknowledged the high level of safety in the NAS as a result of the close collaboration between Congress, the federal government, industry, and labor while pointing out that recent events, including near misses, point to the need for additional safety vigilance. He also mentioned two areas of aviation safety concern: UAS operations and helicopter safety.

What follows in the first part of a two-part article is a brief summary of the FAA and NASA hearing witnesses’ and oral prepared statements. The forthcoming second part of this article will summarize the NTSB, OIG and ALPA statements.

Major points of the FAA summary included:

  • Shifting over the past few years to a risk management based approach to managing safety, including the use of safety management systems (SMS) (Note: the requirement for Part 121 carriers to implement SMS will be effective on March 9, 2018);
  • Restructuring the Flight Standards Service organization away from an organization structure based on geographic locations to an organization based on functions;
  • The realignment of last year’s Aircraft Certification Service from a product-based structure to a functional alignment;
  • Working through the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee in continuing efforts toward a yearly 1% reduction in fatal general aviation (GA) accidents by the close of the fiscal year, including implementation of the Non- Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE) policy for streamlining the process for GA operators to install non-required safety equipment on their aircraft and continuing work on the full deployment of the online pilots records database; and
  • Ongoing work of the Drone Advisory Committee in identifying and prioritizing UAS integration challenges and improvements.

Major Points of the NASA summary included:

  • The agency is shifting toward proactive risk mitigation by leveraging growing sources of aviation data, commercial data analytics methods, architectures, and the “internet of things” to enhance monitoring, predictions and prognostics;
  • Other current agency efforts include research to allow operators to identify anomalous behavior and precursors to know hazards in real time;
  • Near-term development of tools to monitor pilot or controller performance, including research to understand how duty time and schedules affect pilot performance;
  • Assessing the difficulties associated with assuring the safety of increasingly complex and autonomous aviation systems;
  • Continuing work with the Commercial Aviation Safety team and completing research and development of cockpit systems with predictive algorithms to alert pilots, models for aircraft stall performance, and specific flight crew training methods; and
  • Under its UAS traffic Management System research project, assessing whether small UAS can safely operate beyond visual-line-of sight to the uncontrolled low altitude airspace below 400 feet.
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