Graves Statement from Hearing on COVID-19 Effects on Aviation Industry & Recovery
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Subcommittee on Aviation Ranking Member Garret Graves (R-LA) from today’s hearing entitled, “COVID-19’s Effects on U.S. Aviation and the Flight Path to Recovery”:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank all the witnesses for being here. I appreciate the opportunity to have this hearing today.
This pandemic has been extraordinary in terms of its impacts – everything from mental health challenges, increased suicides, increased opioids dependence, lost jobs, lost economic activity, and of course folks in nursing homes unable to have their loved ones come visit, causing mental health as well as physical health problems.
Some good news, as the Chairman noted, is that 130 million vaccines have already been prepared and are available for Americans, as of the end of this month. And we’re on track right now to have access to vaccines by the summer for all Americans, which is great news.
Mr. Chairman, as you well know back in April of last year, passenger flights were down 95 percent. Ninety-five percent. Year to year, looking at 2019 to 2020, passenger counts were down 60 percent. It’s estimated that somewhere between $1.6 and $1.8 trillion dollars in additional savings by Americans were realized as a result of the extraordinary drop in economic activity, including reduced flying.
Congress has stepped up and twice provided the payroll support program – supporting workers – because what is important is that we actually maintain the capacity of our airline industry and the ability to have business, recreational, and tourism travel available for when the economy picks back up again.
And so, those investments have gone to help ensure that we have that maintained capacity. We’ve also made investments in airports to ensure the infrastructure is there and ready to go.
And I am going to say it again: this is absolutely integral to our economic recovery.
Now something else that we need to be thinking about – and I am interested to hear from the witnesses on this – is that since airline passenger flights and travel have been down significantly: Are we ready? In terms of safety, are we ready? Equipment has been in storage; pilots aren’t getting the number of hours they normally get; and what about other airline workers, flight attendants, and mechanics? Are we ready to go, to do it safely, and to ramp back up quickly to 100 percent capacity?
As the Chairman noted, we don’t need to just get back to where we were before. We have had extraordinary challenges in the aviation industry with some of the safety issues associated with 737 MAX, as well as all the statistics I just covered, including the 95 percent reduction in flights dating back to April of last year.
But we have some amazing opportunities on the horizon and within the aerospace industry. And of course, one of the biggest being unmanned systems and their integration into our airspace.
I am looking forward to hearing the witnesses’ testimony, and I just want to again reiterate what the Chairman said in regard to helping us to look forward and project what some of the needs might be from this body, to ensure that we are ready to go from a capacity and safety perspective whenever the economy fully opens back up.
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