Peter DeFazio (D-OR-4), the dean of the Oregon House delegation, has played a leading role in federal aviation policymaking for decades. First elected to Congress in 1986, DeFazio has been the chair of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over aviation, since 2019. As chair, and previously as ranking member, DeFazio has taken a leading role in the passage of several multi-billion-dollar laws that have created jobs, improved transportation options and kept the aviation industry accountable. He authored and helped pass in the House the “Moving Forward Act” (H.R.2), legislation that called for investing more than $760 billion over five years to bring our nation’s transportation and infrastructure up to a state of good repair while creating millions of jobs.
Q: As Chair of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, what do you consider the most significant changes in aviation you’ve seen in your 36 years in Congress?
There’s been a few big ones. It took me nearly a decade to get rid of the FAA’s “dual mandate” to both regulate safety and promote commercial aviation, which I always saw as a conflict of interest. It was only after the ValuJet crash in 1996 that my amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill succeeded in stripping the promotional authority from the FAA so the agency could focus on its regulatory duties.
Q: You have been a leader in emissions reduction in transportation. What can Congress and general aviation do to continue to advance and promote sustainability?
The Inflation Reduction Act that we just passed invests $244.5 million in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) infrastructure and provides $46.5 million for low-emission aviation technologies, which I pushed for and was very pleased to see included. The bill also includes an SAF-specific blenders tax credit that will help accelerate and expand the production and use of these fuels.
For years I have been telling anyone who will listen that the fight against climate change must include a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions that come from the transportation sector. Currently, the transportation sector leads all others in emissions, and we must continue to look for ways to reduce that impact.
“In just a few short years, AAM may help us alleviate traffic congestion, provide a more environmentally sustainable mode of transportation and create good-paying U.S. jobs.”
Q: Advanced air mobility (AAM) is one of the most promising emerging technologies in aviation. What can Congress do to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in AAM?
In just a few short years, AAM may help us alleviate traffic congestion, provide a more environmentally sustainable mode of transportation and create good-paying U.S. jobs. But for the U.S. to remain a global AAM leader, we must learn from past lessons – particularly from the emergence of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). That means working with the FAA and stakeholders to create the right regulatory framework to ensure that as AAM aircraft emerge in an already complex U.S. airspace, they are safe for those on board and those on the ground.
It also means committing to early and consistent engagement with states and local communities to help them prepare for and take advantage of AAM’s tremendous potential. Investing in research and development will also be critical to encouraging innovators to develop this technology in the U.S. Lastly, we must support workforce development programs to help equip future AAM operators, technicians and engineers with the skills necessary to compete globally.
“From the rise of new airspace entrants, to decarbonizing the aviation sector to 5G deployment, there remains a whole host of new issues that have emerged in recent years and will need to be tackled by future Congresses.”
Q: AAM and UAS have the potential to expand access to rural and disadvantaged communities. How do you envision our airspace 25 years from now?
AAM and UAS have the potential to dramatically improve transportation options for all Americans, including those in rural and disadvantaged communities. My hope is that these industries find ways to ensure that these transformative technologies are accessible to everyone and not just limited to the wealthy few.
From the rise of new airspace entrants, to decarbonizing aviation to 5G deployment, there remains a whole host of new issues that have emerged in recent years and will need to be tackled by future Congresses. But I wouldn’t have felt comfortable retiring if I didn’t think there was a new generation of extremely passionate and capable leaders in the world of transportation ready to take up the baton behind me.
The quest for the highest level of aviation safety never ends, and I know leaders on Capitol Hill, in the administration, and within the aviation industry are going to keep working to deliver that on behalf of the American people.
Q: You’ve worked hard to promote aviation safety over the years. Which effort are you most proud of?
My committee’s investigation of the Boeing 737 MAX crashes. Instinctively, I knew we needed to get to the bottom of whatever was happening at Boeing that could allow two planes to nosedive out of the sky in such horrific fashion. I had just taken over the gavel [of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure] in 2019, and I told my newly created investigations and oversight team, “This is it. This is what we are focusing on.”
Almost a year and a half later, our report was released. The report immediately breathed life into the negotiations for an aviation safety reform bill. Later that year, we passed landmark bipartisan legislation reforming the aircraft certification process, and I firmly believe our skies are much safer as a result.