Republicans on the House Aviation Committee used a hearing intended to address air travel safety concerns to pepper FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker with accusations of “illegal foreign nationals” sleeping at airports, to complain about work from home rules, and to drop a reference to Taylor Swift‘s “supersonic jet.”
As Mr Whitaker admitted to the lawmakers, the past year has seen an uptick of aviation safety incidents. The most notable was the 5 January incident during which a door blew off an Alaska AirBoeing 737 MAX 9, but there have been several “near miss” incidents between landing planes and concerns that there are too few pilots and too few air traffic controllers to maintain safe air operations.
The hearing took place just hours before the NTSB released its preliminary report detailing what went wrong on that Alaska Air flight.
While the majority of the House Aviation Committee seemed intent on engaging Mr Whitaker on safety issues and demanding that Boeing be held accountable, a few members used the opportunity to peddle Fox News’ latest headlines back at the official and to air their various, tenuously connected grievances.
Republican Scott Perry of Pennsylvania used his time to demand answers about “illegal foreign nationals” being housed at airports. He cited FAA regulations stating that airports would not be used for non-aeronautical functions, and asked if Mr Whitaker was aware of any airports that had filed requests allowing migrants temporary housing.
Mr Whitaker said he was aware of “one” but noted that exceptions could be made to the non-aeronautical use rules on a request-by-request basis.
“The FAA does approve requests for community use, whatever the category, and there’s a huge number of categories for community use,” Mr Whitaker said. “Our criteria is whether or not it interrupts aeronautical uses or is otherwise disruptive.”
In late January, Fox News ran a series of stories alleging that secret rooms were being used in airports to temporarily house migrants.
Later in the hearing, Texas Republican Troy Nehls was pushing back on a letter sent by the FAA to Congress opposing raising the retirement age of pilots from 65 to 67. The letter asked for more data on the potential impacts of such a change before it would consider raising the retirement age.
Mr Nehls said that the Air Line…