By Rep. Ron Estes
In Congress, I represent Wichita, Kansas, the Air Capital of the World. About two-thirds of the parts in any airplane and one-half of the world’s aircraft fleet are produced in Wichita.
Our community has a rich aviation history building aircraft and aviation parts for planes from aviation giants like Beechcraft, Cessna, Spirit, Learjet, and Stearman.
The recent FAA airworthiness certification of the Cessna Citation Longitude is a big win for Textron Aviation and general aviation overall. The certification was especially good news for the more than 9,000 Textron Aviation employees in my district. It’s also a boost to the hundreds of small businesses across the country that supply parts for general aviation aircraft like the Longitude.
The process to certify the Longitude was long and arduous, but well worth the effort. It took more than four years to complete. The jet’s experimental and demo fleet completed nearly 6,000 hours of flight time and a more than 35,000-mile world tour.
Throughout a very rigorous and well-established type certification process set forth by the FAA, Textron Aviation and the FAA worked in partnership to ensure that the aircraft’s designs and manufacturing methods complied with regulations. Textron completed extensive ground and flight tests to demonstrate the safety of operation and evaluated all required maintenance and operation suitability for the aircraft’s introduction into service. This process ensures the Longitude is safe, compliant, and ready for customer deliveries.
Textron Aviation also employs a team of certification experts who work hand in hand with the FAA to identify and solve issues in the certification stage and throughout the life of an aircraft. As an organizational designee of the FAA, Textron also employs several certification subject matter experts that support the FAA’s interests on an aircraft certification program.
While the FAA retains full authority and oversight over these Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) representatives and all of the processes, Textron Aviation demonstrates that these processes are followed and the aircraft design is compliant to FAA Airworthiness Standards.
Textron’s time and attention to every detail embodies the commitment to safety that general aviation manufacturers meet to ensure the planes they build are safe and reliable.
Given its oversight authority of the FAA, Congress also has a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that the aircraft flying in America’s skies are safe and reliable. Global tragedies like the two recent crashes over the past nine months have brought this issue to the forefront. Congress should extensively investigate the cause of the accidents and solutions should be productive and targeted.
However, we should be careful to not unfairly hamper or punish the aviation industry at large and the incredible workforce in Kansas and throughout the country.
Congress has already acted to lay the groundwork for an even safer and more effective aviation system in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act. We now need to implement these provisions which are designed to strengthen FAA safety oversight, provide better tools and training for the FAA safety workforce, and share best safety practices among manufacturers.
While I believe these measures will strengthen an already robust safety system, Congress must do all it can to ensure the safety of the flying public. At the same time, we must avoid soundbite solutions that are well intentioned but in the end lead to a reduction of safety, innovation, and industry competitiveness.
The tragedies of Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air accidents are clear reminders of what the Wichita-based manufacturers in my district know to their core: All stakeholders must always keep their eye on safety first and foremost. This means that to achieve ever increasing levels of safety, the aviation industry, Congress, and the FAA must always be focused on continuous improvement in the safety oversight and certification process.
The current aviation certification system has worked extremely well for general aviation. The process has resulted in an installed base of aircraft that operate at a high degree of safety, as proven by a strong historical track record of guaranteeing the safety of air travelers. Congress should protect that record and apply its lesson to other areas of aviation.
Ron Estes represents the 4th District of Kansas and serves on the House Ways and Means Committee.