'Something is Wrong in the System,' Rep. Carson Says Amid New FAA, Boeing Scrutiny

March 19, 2019

By Amanda Weston

President Trump has nominated a former Delta executive to head the Federal Aviation Administration, as scrutiny continues to build on both the agency and the aviation industry over the two catastrophic crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets in less than six months. If confirmed, Stephen Dickson will take the reins of the agency as the Department of Transportation is conducting an audit of the FAA's approval of the 737 Max 8 and as congressional oversight committees are asking their own questions about the circumstances behind the crashes.

"I think that it's something that we have to ー as overseers or at least having an oversight capacity on the transportation committee ー to look at this very closely," Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), who sits on the House Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation, told Cheddar on Tuesday.

"The FAA had a stellar record up until recently from 2009 to now of having zero fatalities in U.S. skies. Internationally in 2017 we had zero fatalities, and so something is wrong in the system," he told Cheddar Tuesday. "I think it's time that we look very closely at the kinds of internal controls that need to be modified, that need to be corrected, that need to be tightened, in a very real sense, so these things don't happen again."

He said those internal controls include examining claims that the FAA "has been too cozy as of late with the [aviation] industry," adding that there "need to be checks and balances" on companies.

"We should have a professional exchange but there should also be a professional distance," Carson said. "We still have an oversight responsibility and the FAA has a regulatory and oversight responsibility, and so those things can't be lost."

Statistically speaking, air travel is still safe. Barry Valentine, senior advisor at The Wicks Group and former acting administrator of the FAA, said the system "has obviously worked very, very well over the years," noting that hundreds of millions of flights have been made safely over the past two to three decades.

"There's never going to be zero accidents," he added. "As long as you defy gravity, there is an element of risk. What's amazing is how tiny we have made that risk."

Valentine also said that some partnership between the FAA and the aviation industry is useful.

"The certification process is, and by its nature has to be, a collaborative effort," he said. "The FAA doesn't design airplanes, it doesn't manufacture airplanes ー companies do that and the FAA works with them."

But he acknowledged that technological advancements that are making airplanes increasingly automated systems may require "a different approach."

"Sort of good news, bad news is the pilots are less involved with the machine and machines tend to be quite often more efficient than people," Valentine told Cheddar. "The bad news is the pilots are removed from that activity as well. It kind of cuts both ways."

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday federal prosecutors are taking a closer look at the development of the 737 Max planes. The paper reported a grand jury issued a subpoena just a day after the plane crash in mid-March. The subpoena reportedly involves at least one person who is part of the 737 Max's development.

Carson said he plans to question FAA leadership about the management and maintenance of airplane technology.

"One of the things that I'd like to know in a public hearing is how do we manage this software reality? How important is it to continually update software to help navigate these planes, to make sure that our planes are flying properly and landing properly?" Carson said. "Autopilot is something that pilots use regularly, how much of an influence will the growing presence of AI have on our aircrafts in the future? We certainly want to take care of technology to reduce pilot fatigue, we certainly want to make sure that we have systems in place to make sure passengers are safe."

For full interview click here.