Pete Buttigieg, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Transportation Department, told a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing Thursday that he will work to make sure transportation systems are safe during the pandemic.
“We must ensure all of our transportation systems — from aviation to public transit, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways, and pipelines — are managed safely during this critical period, as we work to defeat the virus,” he said in prepared remarks ahead of the hearing.
During the hearing, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation pressed Buttigieg on reforms to the Federal Aviation Administration, which came under fire for outsourcing too many certification tasks to Boeing after two deadly crashes of its best-selling 737 Max. The crashes prompted bipartisan legislation that passed in 2020 to give the FAA more control over certification of new aircraft.
Buttigieg said the FAA must “be in the driver’s seat.” He told Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat who pushed for the legislation, that he’d pursue personnel changes at the agency if necessary.
The 39-year-old former presidential candidate and former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, will face a country roiled by Covid-19, particularly airlines struggling to stem billions in losses as the virus keeps many customers off airplanes.
Biden is scheduled to sign an executive order Thursday that would require masks on interstate transportation, including airplanes, a step airline labor unions have urged since early in the pandemic but one the Trump administration declined to take. Airlines, Amtrak and bus companies such as Greyhound already require passengers to wear masks on board. The labor unions have argued that a federal rule would give more weight to their company rules. Carriers have banned more than 2,500 people during the pandemic for refusing to follow mask rules.