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Remarks on Receiving the Final Report of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security and an Exchange With Reporters

February 12, 1997

The President. Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. Secretary Pena, Secretary-designate Slater; Senator Lautenberg, thank you for your support and involvement. And a special thanks to all the members of this very distinguished Commission for the work that they did.

This report lays out a clear plan of action to ensure that America's airways and airplanes will remain the safest and that our passengers the most secure in the world well into the next century.

Our aviation infrastructure is just as important to us today as the great railroads were in the 1800's or the interstate highway system became in the second half of the 20th century. Just as they made us competitive in the economies of the 19th and 20th century, a modernized national airspace system will determine our ability to compete in the 21st century.

It is fitting that the Vice President is leading this effort. One of the great legacies of Al Gore, Sr.'s service in the United States Senate was his leadership in building our interstate highway system. The mission to modernize and improve our airspace system for the challenges of the next century is every bit as important and historic, and I thank him for the work he has done.

I also want to commend the members of this Commission for first taking on the task and especially the family members of the victims of airline disasters, those serving on the Commission, those who wrote to us, those who testified before us about how to improve our interaction with families in the aftermath of disasters. Out of their personal tragedy they have made a valuable contribution to all of us.

The recommendations in this report are strong, and we will put them into action. We will use all the tools of modern science to make flying as safe as possible. We will bring our air traffic control system into the 21st century, and we will do it by converting to space age satellite technology. We will also change the way we inspect older aircraft, to include an examination of wiring and hydraulic systems, all to ensure that every plane carrying passengers, regardless of its age, is as safe as it can be.

We are doing all these things so that we can cut the fatal accident rate by 80 percent in 5 years—in 10 years—and so that by the year 2005 our air traffic control system will be the finest in the world. We are also taking steps to improve security for all American travelers.

I want to say a word about two of the report's most important recommendations on accident reduction and security. First, it's important to note that air travel is still our safest mode of transportation and America has the lowest accident rate in the world. We have to keep it the lowest and keep working to improve. The FAA and the airline industry have been partners in this effort for years. Today I am pleased to announce that NASA will join them. NASA has agreed to dedicate up to a half a billion dollars in research and development budget over the next 5 years to help make sure we do achieve our accident reduction goal.

Second, aviation security is one of the major fronts of our three-part counterterrorism strategy. On September 9th, I accepted the Commission's 20 initial policy recommendations on security. We acted quickly to implement these recommendations. We have begun installing 54 bomb detection machines in America's airports. We are training and deploying over 100 bombsniffing dog teams. The FAA is hiring 300 new special agents to test airport security. And the FBI is adding 644 agents and 620 support personnel in 1997 to counterterrorism efforts.

We are taking action to make our people more secure. But we cannot afford to rest. The balanced budget I submitted to Congress last week contains $100 million for future aviation security improvements, as the Commission recommends. I urge the Congress to provide this critical funding. This unprecedented Federal commitment reflects our resolve to do everything we can to protect our people and to prevent terrorism.

Again, let me thank the Vice President and the Commission for this remarkable report. Your work should give the American people confidence that air travel in the 21st century will be better and safer than ever before.

Thank you very much.

The Vice President. Mr. President, I think we're going to have a chance to visit with each of them. I want to just note that every single member of the Commission signed the final recommendations. And it was unanimous on every section, with the exception of one dissent in one part of the report from one Commissioner. Every member of the Commission has signed it.

American Airlines Labor Dispute

Q. Mr. President, on aviation, if American Airlines and its pilots can't come to an agreement by Friday, are you inclined to use your power to declare a national emergency and therefore avoid the disruption of a strike? [Laughter]

The President. You're going to have another shot at me tomorrow, you know. [Laughter] First of all, today I want to say this and just this. This issue has huge implications for our country and, in particular, for specific parts of our country. I have been following it very closely. Today I want to say that the time has not expired, and I want to encourage the parties to make maximum use of the mediation board process. That's what ought to be done today, and that's all I have to say about it today.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:47 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on Receiving the Final Report of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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