Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao For Air Line Pilots Association 65th Air Safety Forum

July 18, 2019

Thank you, Captain [Joe] DePete, [President of ALPA] for that introduction.  I am delighted to join you for ALPA’s 65th Air Safety Forum.


No one knows more about aviation safety than the men and women who pilot commercial airliners.  You are an invaluable partner in furthering DOT’s mission to advance transportation safety.  The Department appreciates everything you do, every day of the year, to help make sure that every flight, and every passenger, arrives safely at their destination.


In my job, I fly a lot – in coach, by the way – and take a great deal of comfort in knowing that our highly trained pilots share a strong commitment to safety.  So, let me thank you, personally, for your leading role in making commercial aviation such a safe mode of travel – 100 times safer than traveling by car.


As you know, the Department’s number one priority is safety. It is the foundation of everything the Department does. And this is especially true for aviation.


The second priority is rebuilding and refurbishing infrastructure to enable the growth of a vibrant economy, keep our country productive and competitive, and improve quality of life for everyone.


And the third priority is preparing for the future, by engaging with new, emerging technologies to address legitimate public concerns about safety, security, and privacy without hampering innovation.


These priorities helped establish an aviation safety record that is the world’s gold standard.  This is a tremendous accomplishment.  It is a tribute, first and foremost, to the men and women who pilot these aircraft.  It is a testament to technological innovation, learning from mistakes and tragedies, information sharing and much more.  It is also a credit to those who operate our airports and manage the airspace.  Everyone in the aviation system, including passengers, can play a positive role in advancing air safety.


As remarkable as the improvements in air safety have been, there is always room for improvement.  The Department will pursue every means, relentlessly, to accomplish this goal.


For decades, ALPA has been among the most valued, reliable and important partners in helping the Department achieve its safety mission.  ALPA helped get the ball rolling on the aviation safety challenge posed by lithium batteries and other potentially hazardous materials.  It approached PHMSA to request that the U.S. Department of Transportation initiate a public awareness campaign on this issue.  Your President, Captain Joe DePete, has been working on this issue for years.


Undeclared hazardous material shipments were a growing concern throughout the entire transportation system. So, PHMSA, supported by the FAA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the United States Coast Guard, and the United States Postal Service, established the “Check the Box” awareness campaign.


“Check the Box” seeks to prevent serious incidents and accidents by increasing industry and public awareness of everyday items that are considered hazardous, including the lithium batteries found in phones, laptops, and other devices.


The Department supports “Check the Box” with a dedicated website, training, and special events. It is aided in this effort by stakeholders including ALPA, the Association of Mail and Business Centers, FedEx, United Parcel Service, and others.


This effort may save time.  Informed passengers will know what they can or cannot pack, which could lead to fewer delays checking in or going through security.  Skip Elliott, the PHMSA Administrator, is here with us today.  I want to give him a shout out for the “Check the Box” campaign.


Of course, hazardous materials are not the only safety challenge facing aviation.


Earlier today, you held a session on “the rogue drone.”  There are now more than 1.4 million registered drones in the U.S.  To help address security concerns, the Department is helping implement remote identification of drones. The Department has additional programs to safely integrate drones in our airspace.  These include testing drones in a variety of environments under restricted conditions, and advancing drone airspace management.


Another area of interest is America’s growing commercial space sector.   Reusable rockets and air launch systems have helped America regain global first place in commercial space launches.  The Department is developing the Space Data Integrator program so launches will cause minimal disruption of the commercial airspace.


Aviation infrastructure, such as separate taxiways and runway lighting, also contribute to aviation safety.  These and other improvements are being made thanks to the $16.5 billion dollar 5-year FAA re-authorization signed into law in 2018 by the President.  This law contains certain rulemaking mandates with safety implications.  These include initiatives to address flight attendant fatigue, secondary barriers, and issues surrounding service animals aboard aircraft.


Working together, government agencies and the private sector are creating a regulatory framework that stresses safety but does not hamper innovation.  This will help ensure that our country remains a global leader in transportation innovation.


Finally, the FAA is following a thorough process, rather than a prescribed timeline, for returning the Boeing 737 Max to passenger service.  The FAA will lift the aircraft’s prohibition order when it is deemed safe to do so.  The FAA continues to evaluate Boeing’s software modification and it is still developing necessary training requirements.  The FAA is also responding to recommendations from the independent Technical Advisory Board concerning the 737 Max “Return to Service” effort.


I would like to end with an observation.  Aviation is so vital to our way of life and the economy.  Well over a century has passed since the Wright Brothers’ historic flights at Kitty Hawk.  Yet, there remains a mystique about flying.  Youngsters still dream of one day earning pilot wings.  99.98 percent of Americans do not have any kind of pilot license.


Captain DePete and I have talked about how important it is to encourage more young people to pursue studies in STEM disciplines so that they can be prepared to take that pilot’s seat.  And contribute to aviation in other ways.  From general aviation, to regional and international airlines to commercial space flight, aviation continues reaching toward new heights.  But to reach those heights, it needs trained and dedicated pilots.  Pilots like so many of you.


Thank you.


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