Associated Retired Aviation Professionals

Congressman Duncan's Remarks 
From The Congressional Record

October 17, 2000

Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania, our very distinguished chairman, for yielding me this time. First of all, I want to start out by saying that being allowed to be chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation has really been the highlight of my congressional career; and that would not have been possible without the support of the chairman, the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Shuster). I am very proud to have served with a man of his character. He has served with great honor and distinction in this House, and I appreciate very much his support for me in this position. 

Madam Speaker, this bill is very similar to a bill, H.R. 2910, that passed the House by a vote of 420 to 4 on September 30 of last year. This bill reauthorizes the National Transportation Safety Board for 3 years and provides funding of $57 million, $65 million, and $72 million over those 3 years. 

The safety board is the agency responsible for investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety. The board investigates accidents, conducts safety studies, and coordinates all Federal assistance for families of victims of catastrophic transportation accidents. It also reviews appeals of certificate and civil penalty actions against airmen and certificate actions against seamen. Most importantly, the NTSB makes safety recommendations. 

Based on its investigations, Federal, State, and local government agencies and the transportation industry take actions that will prevent similar accidents in the future.  The aviation safety record is remarkably good, and the safety board deserves a lot of the credit for that. 

Non aviation people are amazed when I speak to them and tell them that, unfortunately, we have more people killed in 4 1/2 months on the Nation's highways than have been killed in all U.S. aviation accidents combined since the Wright Brothers' flight in 1903. Much of that great aviation safety record has been aided by the work of the NTSB. 

This legislation makes some changes to the agency's governing statute that should help make the board even more effective. I will list those changes in the statement that I will provide for the Record.  

The bill also includes several technical changes that were not in either the House or Senate bills. These changes would ensure that the FAA can assess penalties against unruly passengers or passengers who tamper with laboratory smoke detectors. It would ensure that the FAA can issue its over flight fee rule as an interim final rule, and ensures that the FAA can keep the money it makes from the sale of aeronautical charts.  

I would also like to make special mention of the provision in the bill on law enforcement flight time. Currently, pilots who fly for police or for sheriff departments cannot count their flight time toward the requirements of a civil air license. This bill would change that. It would direct the FAA to count the time a pilot flies a law enforcement aircraft. This is similar to consideration given to military pilots. I know it will be very helpful to the sheriff departments in Tennessee, but it will also benefit our hardworking law enforcement pilots all over the country.  

Madam Speaker, the NTSB has conducted a lengthy and thorough investigation of the TWA 800 crash. I personally do not believe that Chairman Hall, or any of the many good people at the NTSB, would be a party to any type of cover-up about this or any other crash, but I have a few comments that I would like to make about that.  

I also recognize that there are many good, sincere, honest, intelligent people across this country who do not agree with or believe the NTSB conclusions about the TWA 800 crash. I want to assure everyone that neither I nor any member of our subcommittee or staff would ever have participated in or aided in any knowing way in any type of cover-up.  

In addition to our public hearings, I personally went to New York with staff to view that wreckage. We had private briefings by the FBI and others. I met with some of the eyewitnesses and people investigating this wreck. I met with Commander Donaldson after one of our hearings.  

The gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Traficant) called one day and asked if he could conduct his own personal investigation. I gave him my approval for that. 

I asked one of my constituents, Mike Coffield, the Continental Airlines pilot, to investigate this crash. We heard from family members of victims of this terrible tragedy. 

Reed Irvine, a man for whom I have very great respect, recently came to my office at my request so that we could discuss this further because of ads and other activities by him and his group. 

I doubt that we will ever be able to answer all the questions surrounding this crash to everyone's satisfaction. I personally find it almost impossible to believe that a U.S. Navy ship shot a missile that hit this plane either accidentally or intentionally.  

I know very little about ships and missiles, but I do not believe that just one person could shoot off one without someone knowing about it. If several people were involved, someone would have talked to his wife or somebody, in my opinion. 

I told Mr. Irvine this, if some terrorist group shot this plane down, they probably would have claimed credit. Yet I am still willing to read any report or listen to anyone about this. 

Our government should not have stopped (Mr. Sanders) or anyone else from investigating this crash. If anyone can come up with the final, definite, conclusive answer on this, more power to them.  

I am most concerned, however, about the family members of the victims of this crash. I believe closure is an overused, misused word because I do not believe a family member ever gets closure on something like this, particularly if they lost a child. But I certainly do not want to do anything to prolong the agony of any TWA 800 family member. They have suffered too much already. 

I will say that, if any family member of victims of this crash wants me to look into this further, I certainly will do so. Absent that type of request, I will simply commend all those at the NTSB and all those private citizens, Mr. Irvine, Commander Donaldson, the many eyewitnesses and many, many others who have tried so hard to seek the causes of and/or solve the puzzle or answer the questions raised by the crash of TWA 800. 

I also would like to commend Mr. Jim Hall, who I think has done an outstanding job as chairman of the NTSB during his tenure on that board.  

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I am completing 6 years as chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation. I have already thanked the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Chairman Shuster), who is the man mainly responsible for my having been allowed to be chairman. But I would also like to say that it has been a great honor and privilege to work with the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar), who preceded me as chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation.  

I do not believe a person could have had a better ranking member than the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Lipinski). Our working relationship has been 100 percent friendly and cordial. I am proud that the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is considered to be probably the most bipartisan committee or nonpartisan committee in this entire Congress. 

I want, finally, to say a personal thank you to a wonderful staff: David Schaffer of the Republican staff, who has been head of that staff for so many years and is such a professional person and on whom I have relied so much, Adam Tsao, Jim Coon, Donna McLean, Rob Chamberlin, David Balloff, John Glaser, Felicia Goss, Diane Rogers, and Amanda Wind on our staff; and on the Democratic staff: Stacie Soumbeniotis, Tricia Loveland, Amy Denicore, Paul Feldman, David Traynham, Mary Walsh, Colleen Corr, Rachel Carr, and Michelle Mihin. All of them have been so helpful and I am very, very grateful to them.  

I apologize for taking so much time. I urge passage of this bill.  

The bill reauthorizes the agency for 3 years and provides modest increases in its authorized funding levels; It makes clear that the NTSB has priority over other agencies in the investigation of transportation accidents; However, the legislation does provide a procedure whereby the Safety Board would turn an investigation over to the FBI when a criminal act may be involved; The bill allows the Safety Board to enter into agreements with foreign governments, after consultation with the Department of State; The bill also provides overtime pay to NTSB investigators who have to work at the scene of an accident during nights and weekends. 

However, this overtime is capped at one and a half percent of the agency's appropriation to ensure that overtime is not abused. Also, the bill ensures that information on surface vehicle recorders and cockpit video recorders will not be disclosed. This is the same protection now  provided for cockpit voice recordings. At our Subcommittee hearing last April, airline pilots expressed concern about the public release of cockpit video recordings for purely sensationalistic purposes. This bill protects them from that. 

Another important provision in this bill is the section that provides authority to the Department of Transportation's Inspector General to oversee the business and financial management of the Board. Indeed, there are several provisions in this bill that ensure continued sound financial management at the Safety Board.  These include restrictions on non emergency travel and the implementation of internal audit controls.

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