The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held its first of many hearings today on the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), where IT system modernization and cybersecurity took center stage.

Last month’s FAA system outage has sparked bipartisan concern in Congress about cyberattacks on outdated aviation systems, and representatives expressed their interest in prioritizing cybersecurity in the upcoming reauthorization legislation.

“The root cause of air mission system failure in January doesn’t appear to be due to a cyberattack,” Committee Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., said. “But we need to anticipate future attacks on the system that is meant to keep our aviation industry safe.”

The FAA Authorization Act of 2018 was a bipartisan, five-year authorization bill that extended the agency’s funding and authorities through fiscal year 2023.

Lawmakers have until Sept. 30 – when the old legislation is set to expire – to offer up a new FAA Reauthorization Bill, where they want to prioritize modernization and updated aviation technology.

Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, R-N.J., reintroduced the Advanced Aviation Act in the first week of the 118th Congress to establish an office within the FAA that would approve and integrate new technologies. Rep. Van Drew hopes to tack this legislation onto the upcoming FAA Reauthorization Bill.

“I’m concerned that Federal Aviation Administration is falling short on its technological mission,” he said during the committee hearing. “This year’s FAA bill is the opportunity to develop [advanced technology] tools and set the agency up for real success.”

Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, echoed the other committee members, citing an incident this week in his home state where two planes narrowly avoided a crash during takeoff.

“Recent disruptions and groundings appear to be due in large part to reliance on outdated technology and systems, some of which are built on software that is decades old,” Rep. Babin said.

He added, “It’s striking to see that the failure to use or partner with the right software or service providers could directly result in a disruptive impact on our passengers [and] the airlines themselves – shaking public confidence in our air operations.”

The acting associate administrator for aviation safety at FAA, Dave Boulter, told the committee that modernization nor innovation would be possible without better funding.

“First and foremost, we have the president’s budget, and we obviously need to be funded at that request level,” Boulter said. “The pace of technology – as we all know – has increased, but the pace of our processes has not.”

He continued, adding, “My number one goal in the aviation safety organization is to get that speed without ever degrading safety.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.