Congress to question top DOT officials on aviation safety

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — Congress will grill top Department of Transportation officials about aviation safety in a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning.

The hearing follows last month’s largest nationwide ground stop since 9/11 when the Federal Aviation Administration announced an unexpected outage of its 30-year-old NOTAM computer system.

The outage disrupted 11,000 flights because pilots could not fly safely without the system alerts.

The FAA has since sent a letter to Congress, promising to get a new system by mid-2025.

In addition to the ground stop, members want to address two close calls on runways at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas, where two planes nearly collided in each instance.

Members will also address the pilot shortage, training standards and the massive travel disruption with Southwest airlines over the holidays.

Plus, at Dallas Love Field Airport in Texas, Southwest just announced it is cutting flying hours in half for prospective pilots.

Lawmakers have made it clear that they want to see improvements both in the air travel industry and in oversight before the end of the fiscal year.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the new chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the ground stop highlighted the need for better leadership, pointing out there’s been an acting administrator for close to a year.

“The FAA does not run on autopilot — it needs skilled, dedicated and permanent leadership in positions across the agency, starting with the administrator’s office,” Graves said.

Aviation expert Richard Levy, who was a commercial airline captain for more than 40 years, told NewsNation that the ground stop would be the first thing he would want to inquire about.

“How did it happen? Now that it’s been several weeks, and how do you prevent it from happening again in the future? Do you expect a software change to take place? We know always with automation things can happen, but what are you doing? That would be a question,” Levy said.

Officials with the FAA, National Transportation Safety Board, the county’s largest pilot unions and others have been called to testify in front of the entire House committee at Tuesday’s hearing.

On Thursday, the COO of Southwest, Andrew Watterson, is set to testify before a Senate committee.


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