WASHINGTON – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has scheduled what is expected to be the first of many hearings examining the Federal Aviation Administration’s role in overseeing aviation safety in the wake of two fatal crashes that have killed more than 300 people.
Cruz, chairman of the subcommittee on aviation and space, will convene a hearing called “The State of Airline Safety: Federal Oversight of Commercial Aviation,” on March 27. Those expected to testify include acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell, Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel and National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
The FAA’s oversight of manufacturer Boeing has come under scrutiny after two high-profile crashes in less than five months involving the company’s 737 Max 8 jets. In October, a Lion Air plane crashed shortly after takeoff into the Java Sea off Indonesia, killing all 189 people on the aircraft. Earlier this month, an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed shortly after it left the capital city, Addis Ababa, killing 157 people.
On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asked Scovel’s office to conduct audit of the agency’s process for certifying the aircraft. The Justice Department’s criminal division has also launched a probe focused on the 737 Max, but the scope of that investigation is not clear.
Investigators are still working to determine the cause of both crashes, but preliminary information garnered from satellite tracking data identified similarities between the two crashes. The information prompted the FAA to ground the jets, a move that came after civil aviation agencies around the world had already done so.
Boeing officials have said they are preparing to update software and pilot training manuals. The change is meant to address an automated feature of the Max jets that Indonesian investigators say may have been a factor in the Oct. 29 crash.
Cruz said the committee also plans to hold a second hearing to talk to industry representatives, including from Boeing, other aviation manufacturers, airline pilots.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said last week that he plans to hold one or more hearings on the Boeing crashes. On Tuesday, he and Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who head the aviation subcommittee, also asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to examine questions concerning the FAA’s approach to certifying the Max 8.
“I have a long record of fighting to ensure safety is always the priority at FAA,” DeFazio said Wednesday, “and, given the many questions about the recent Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines accidents, I am actively pursuing an investigation into the certification of this aircraft and the decision not to require additional pilot training. I am committed to using all of the tools at my disposal as chairman to get answers, including hearing.”
It is not clear how much new information about the investigation into the Ethiopian Airlines crash will come out of next week’s hearing. While the NTSB is participating in the investigation, only Ethiopian authorities are authorized to discuss the probe.