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Blumenthal-Championed Provisions to Reform FAA Included in Omnibus Bill

The final 2021 omnibus spending bill includes provisions Blumenthal authored to strengthen whistleblower protections, improve aircraft safety certifications, and remove monetary incentives for rushing through aircraft certification approvals

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced that the Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2021 includes several provisions he championed to reform the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“These reforms set us on the right course for overhauling the badly broken FAA aircraft certification system. By boosting protections for whistleblowers, setting stricter guardrails for aircraft certification processes, and removing bonus incentives for rushing through new aircraft and features, this bill makes our skies safer. Much more must be done to ensure accountability for the horrific 737 MAX crashes and prevent Boeing and other manufacturers from hiding behind the FAA certification process. I will continue the fight to close dangerous loopholes and strengthen regulations to protect our traveling public.”

Earlier this year, Blumenthal introduced comprehensive legislation to revamp oversight of the aviation industry to prioritize consumer safety. The Restoring Aviation Accountability Act would reform the federal government’s role in certifying safety in the aviation industry following two Boeing 737 MAX 8 crashes – Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 – that killed 346 people within five months. The following provisions based on the Restoring Aviation Accountability Act are included in the 2021 omnibus spending legislation:

  • Strengthening Whistleblower Protections: This provision bolsters whistleblower incentives and protections in the aviation industry for employees of aircraft manufacturers by adding them to existing laws protecting airline employees from whistleblower retaliation for reporting safety issues or violations.
  • Boosting Professional Qualifications: This provision implements minimum qualifications for those performing work on behalf of the FAA.
  • Improving Safety Program Audits: This provision encourages the FAA to conduct additional safety audits of aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers to provide increased oversight for ODA holders, and requires the agency to carry out more comprehensive audits at least once every seven years.
  • Addressing Problematic Compensation Practices: This provision increases the accountability measures of the current safety oversight system by requiring that pay, compensation, and bonuses for officers and employees of the FAA are not contingent on delivery of airplanes, the number of aircraft certified, or the number of audits completed.

The omnibus spending bill also includes the following provisions based on Blumenthal-championed amendments offered during the Senate Commerce Committee’s consideration of the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act:

  • Preventing FAA from Delegating Decisions about Critical Design Features: This provision prohibits the FAA from delegating any decisions about novel or unusual design feature to other parties. The FAA would be required to maintain oversight and decision-making with regards to any new or unusual safety system that, either independently or in combination with other failures (as was the case with MCAS and the AOA sensors), could result in failure.
  • Reforming Type Certificates: This provision directs the FAA to fund a study by a federally-funded research and development center on amended and supplemental type certificates for transport category airplanes and to report to Congress on the FAA’s response to the findings and recommendations of the report and any actions the agency will take as a result. This is aimed at addressing abuse of type certificate amendments, a major problem with the 737 MAX. The original 737 was certified in 1967 and Boeing used a series of amended type certificates to make modifications over the past 53 years. When technological advances outpace the utility of the original certificate, individual additions fail to work systemically.
  • Addressing the Weight Limit Loophole: This provision requires FAA to assign ODA safety advisors for all manufacturers that produce aircraft delivered to operators conducting operations under the Part 121 Air Carrier Certification, not just aircraft with a gross weight of 15,000 pounds or more. Without this key provision, some passenger aircraft would be excluded from oversight by ODA safety advisors due to the weight limits.