FAA-Appointed Panel Lays Blame On Congress For Safety Issues


The National Airspace System Safety Review Team (SRT), an FAA-appointed panel of experts, blames Congress’ “shutdown politics” and inadequate FAA funding for increases in close calls involving air safety. In a report released yesterday (Nov. 15), the panel addressed what it describes as recurring gridlock: “This stop-and-start process in Congress has resulted in the disruption of critical activities, notably including the hiring and training of air traffic controllers. It has also slowed down the implementation of key technology modernization programs, delayed thousands of flights, and held up billions of dollars of airport infrastructure investments.”

In its executive summary portion of the report, the SRT quoted the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) definition of the core topic: “Safety is the state in which the possibility of harm to persons or of property damage is reduced to, and maintained at or below, an acceptable level through a continuing process of hazard identification and safety risk management.”

The panel identified challenges up for discussion, including:

-Process Integrity (strengthening FAA organizational structures, institutionalizing roles and responsibilities, and advancing a proactive, data-driven safety culture)

-Staffing (accurately projecting and investing in hiring, training, and certification of the workforce)

-Facilities, Equipment and Technology (sustaining and modernizing National Airspace System (NAS) infrastructure and investing in technology to maximize safety and efficiency)

-Funding (accurately and consistently funding and authorizing the FAA to facilitate the provision and safety oversight of 24/7, 365 days/year operations.)

The chair of the panel, former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, told reporters yesterday that there is no “silver bullet” to be found in the information uncovered by the probe. But he did cite that the FAA financial account designated for updating equipment has sat unused for several years, and the result was that spending capacity had diminished over that time.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. I know this is not related to this story, but what happened to all the links to the other articles? Now I have to go back out to the e-mail to find them. That was a nice feature

    • Until the new owners (hopefully) can get things back to the way we are all used to, here is a quick workaround: After clicking on the first story you see in the email, when it appears hover over “Aviation News” in the far left side of the blue banner and click on “AVwebFlash Current Issue”, and you will bring up a page listing the day’s current articles.

  2. When I saw in the article that Mr Huerta is the chairman of this committee, I had to agree with the findings anyway. Problem is Mr Huerta pushed Congress to enact user fees when he was administrator, along with dragging his feet on BasicMed. So be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

  3. Just another panel of experts blaming anyone but the real source of the problems, the FAA itself. The story last week was the GAO hammered NextGen for program delays, technical issues, and massive costs. Even though NextGen has been on-going for more than a decade, the Covid excuse still comes to forefront to cover for an always unaccountable bureaucracy. Mr. Whitaker, who was in charge of NextGen from 2013-2016, is now rewarded as the new administrator and maybe they will have it done by 2030. Process Integrity and Staffing are internal FAA issues and have nothing to do with Congress using Continuing Resolutions to fund the government. I am trying to remember the last time the FAA shut down the ATC system because they ran out of money. Maybe they should check the current DEI hiring preferences at the door and go back to hiring controllers based on competency.

  4. I had to smile when I saw that Huerta was the chair for the committee. It’s easy to blame Congress for all the FAA’s ills. Lord knows that our dysfunctional Congress can screw up a two-car funeral, but the fact is that many of the problems he outlined can be laid at his feet as administrator. Organizational structure, staffing and facilities upgrading are either the Director’s responsibilities or they require his input and planning. Huerta had money available that he never spent, which shows both poor planning and even poorer organization. Yes, Congress is certainly complicit with this mess, and going almost two years without an official leader didn’t help either, but his comments appear to be an attempt at covering his own failures. Hopefully the new administrator will have better skills to drag the FAA into the 21st century.

    • Michael Huerta .. Step by Step, Inch by Inch … SLOWLY I turned …

      Using that guy to look at FAA problems is like asking a wolf to find out why chickens aren’t laying eggs. In my >50 years as an aviator, HE was the worst of the worst Administrators. To hear him obfuscate at the “Meet the Boss” forums at Airventure was an embarrassment and made me nutty.

    • I agree on matters concerning Huerta. The Honorable Michael G. Whitaker will also feel the pinch of the SRT’s report, which is a wake-up call to Congress and the FAA. The report is like a rattling of the trash can, trying to get their attention.

  5. FAA probe assigned to former FAA Administrator, seems legit. Totally nothing to see here.
    Just for the record, the FAA’s craptacular hiring practices date well before Huerta.

  6. This report cannot be believed. Too much bias. As anyone who has managed a large organization knows, your budget varies. A manager has to manage despite constant uncertainty. This is what a manager is paid to do. Is this report saying that FAA management is so incompetent that they cannot manage with uncertainty?

    • Biased or not I’d love to see how the findings correlate to the decrease in safety. I’m not saying they’re not correlated, but would love to know the linkage, and not just ‘we think’ –

  7. Problem is the inability to fire bad controllers. ATSAP being a get out of jail free card. NATCA being more interested in protecting it members than in the safety of the system.