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Secretary Buttigieg Remarks at FAA Safety Summit

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Well, I'm very glad to see a full house and an overflow crowd on a very important day, talking about a very important subject. And I appreciate everybody gathering here.

I want to start by acknowledging and thanking our FAA Acting Administrator Billy Nolen for your tremendous work and for bringing us together.

Our National Transportation Safety Board [Chair] Homendy, thank you so much for joining us today and for everything you do across every mode. 

I want to recognize former NTSB Chair Sumwalt for joining us today. Thank you for returning, this is an all-hands-on-deck effort, so we're glad that you're part of this.    

And I want to thank everybody who's here and participating across the public sector, industry, labor, all of our stakeholders, because we are dedicated to the common goal that is bringing us together at this summit, which is, of course, strengthening safety. 

America has the safest, most complex system in the world because of the work you all do and because of the standards we all hold ourselves to. We never settle, and when we see an issue we move swiftly and we find ways to move together. That's why we've asked everybody to come here today. 

And while the data are clear that U.S. aviation remains an exceptionally safe mode of travel -- whether you compare it to other modes, whether you compare it to other places, or whether you compare it to other times in our own history -- we take nothing for granted. And we are particularly concerned because we have seen an uptick in serious close calls that we must address together. 

Initial information suggests that more mistakes than usual are happening across the system: on runways, at gates when planes are pushing back, in control towers, and on flight decks. So today is about the entire system, which means it's about all of us. 

This is a key priority for the FAA, for the entire Department, and for the Biden-Harris Administration – and I know it is for everybody who is gathered here.

And that's why we are not going to rest easy with past success. We're going to consistently look for ways to enhance safety, including efforts that we already have underway, like rolling out the ASDE-X Taxiway Arrival Prediction features, modernizing airport infrastructure, moving forward with airport safety management system rules, and more.

I don’t need to tell anyone here why all of this matters so much. The compelling advocacy of families like those who lost loved ones in 2009 on Continental Flight 3407, in 2018 on Lion Air Flight 610, and in 2019 on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, must remind us of what is at stake and continue to guide our critical safety mission.   

As we look at the recent incidents of the last year or so, and as NTSB and FAA continue to investigate, we can't wait for the next catastrophic event to seek the warning signs of today, fully determine the contributing factors, and swiftly address them.

We're staying vigilant because we know that as long as technology, and people, and society, continue to change – which is to say, in perpetuity – we need our safety systems and our safety culture, to evolve and adapt to those changes.

And as you're all taking on this important assignment, I hope that you will remember our predecessors who came together to overhaul and enhance aviation safety culture and systems in the late 1990s. 

By the very nature of safety work, we will never know the names of all the people who are going about their lives today because of accidents and crashes that did not happen, thanks to aviation leaders who knew that the safety record of their day was not good enough.  

Now, of course, those who did that work before today were working from a very different starting point. But as we do our work in our time, we are going to reflect that same spirit of collaboration in service of a shared goal, which has been the foundation of this sector's safety record for decades. 

So today, and in the weeks to come, we ask you to help us address a number of questions: What is showing in the data and what is missing in the data? What are the root causes of the incidents that we’ve seen? What's working well that we need to remember and continue, maintain, and reinforce; and at the same time what are the new steps that need to be taken? What roles and responsibilities do we each have in making needed changes? As our aviation system evolves, are our current systems adequate for the most important part of the aviation system, which is our people? And what needs to be adapted or enhanced? And beyond aviation, can we learn from other high-stakes industries whose workforces have also gone through dramatic changes during the pandemic?

Today’s summit is going to be the first in a series of coordinated events and actions, all part of the Call to Action that we put out last month. That includes an Aviation Safety InfoShare meeting at the end of the month, and a CAST meeting on April 6th, all of which will inform the work of our new Safety Review Team. 

Aviation has to be about safety first and moving people and goods within that safety-first framework.

That’s how we keep U.S. aviation's place as the safest, most complex system in the world. And that's how we maintain this extraordinary fact, which is that a mode of transportation that consists of propelling millions of passengers, dozens or hundreds at a time, through the skies in a metal tube at nearly the speed of sound, several miles above the earth, is also somehow the safest mode of transportation that we know. 

That is what we marvel at, but also what we dare not take for granted. 

And that is our mission. I have no doubt we will succeed in meeting that mission with your help, so I want to thank you for the act of service that is convening here and everything we're going to do to follow up on it. And I look forward to engaging with you today and in the weeks and months and years ahead. 

Thank you very much and let's get to work.