The US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing next week on the nomination of Jennifer Homendy for a second three-year term as chair of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Homendy, who has served on the NTSB since 2018, was renominated by President Joe Biden on 14 March. She has made a name for herself as an outspoken critic of airframer Boeing following numerous recent quality and safety issues, as well as an advocate for a change in the way the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handles pilot and air traffic controller mental health issues.

The committee hearing will take place in Washington DC on 10 April.

Jennifer Homendy NTSB

Source: Leah Walton/NTSB

A US Senate committee will consider NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy for a second three-year term

The NTSB has five board members, each of whom is nominated to serve five-year terms. The President then designates a chair and vice-chair for three-year terms. Its mandate is to investigate transportation disasters and assist victims and survivors as well as their families. 

Homendy has openly criticised Boeing for holding back information after a door plug on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 blew out during a flight in early January. That incident was the latest of several critical safety issues which led to a recent management shake-up at the airframer.

Last month, she blasted Boeing for its lack of transparency, and called the airframer’s non-responses to the NTSB’s queries “absurd”.

She has also been at the forefront of calls to the FAA to reform its mental health screening practices for aviation professionals.

Homendy argues that too often flightcrew mental health issues go unreported and untreated, due to the arcane and byzantine way in which they are handled by the regulator, leading to situations that could compromise aviation safety.

“It’s somewhat of an open secret that current rules incentivise people to either lie about their medical history when it comes to mental health or avoid seeking help in the first place,” Homendy said in November.

Earlier this week, an FAA aviation rulemaking committee published a report urging the agency to tweak how it addresses mental health issues among pilots and air traffic controllers.

In addition, Homendy was instrumental in pushing the FAA to require airframers and airlines to extend cockpit-voice recorder (CVR) duration to 25h from its current 2h on all new aircraft.

She repeatedly criticised the US regulator for its lax standards around the recorder requirement, which have complicated investigations into numerous recent incidents and accidents.

And while the new rule would be an improvement, she has also called on the regulator to require airlines to retrofit the existing commercial fleet with that capability as well. 

Although the FAA has pushed back on that proposal, saying it would be cost-inhibitive, Homendy suggests the agency has ”inappropriately estimated” the retrofit cost. 

The CVR on the Alaska Airlines jet in January had also been overwritten before it could be analysed, she noted.