Eno Transportation Weekly
How Do the New FAA Bills Measure Up to Eno’s Recommendations on Certification Reform?
July 7, 2017
On June 19, Eno, and the Aviation Working Group, has released a new report: Safer, Faster, Cheaper: Aviation Certification for the 21st Century. As its name indicates, this new report deals with the issue of aviation certification, i.e., the processes in which the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes, implements, and oversees the standards for design, production, operation, and maintenance activities. So, it goes from determining that a seat has to withstand a force of 16 Gs in case of a crash, to how to deal with material fatigue (if you want to spend a good couple of hundred of hours, there’s plenty of stuff on FAA’s website to entertain you with).
Just a few days after our release, both the House and the Senate released their new FAA bills. Both these bills included a similar section dedicated to certification (Title III in the House bill and Subtitle B of Title II in the Senate bill). As such, instead of going over our report in detail we will use this space to compare the recommendations made in our report to the provisions in those bills (for those who were clamoring for a detailed description of our report, that can be found here).
In our report, one of our recommendations was the creation of the Aviation Certification Exchange to advise the FAA on best practices. This committee would bring together FAA and the industry to collaborate on certification, much like the Commercial Aviation Safety Team has done to reduce the number of fatalities in commercial aviation. The new FAA bills create a Safety Oversight and Certification Committee which would have many of the responsibilities that we have envisioned for our Aviation Certification Exchange, including not only being an advisor for the FAA, but also in establishing goals and priorities for the agency in all matters related to certification.
On the issue of committees, both bills create the Regulatory Consistency Communications Board that a 2012 Aviation Rulemaking Committee had recommended. This committee would be responsible to advise the FAA is issues related to different interpretation of regulations (inconsistent interpretation of regulations is probably the most discussed problem in FAA certification processes). In our report, we suggest something similar, although we do not stipulate if it has to be a different committee or simply a part of the Aviation Certification Exchange. This committee should consist of not only FAA employees and industry stakeholders, but also independent experts. It could have both permanent members, as well as ad-hoc members that would only be brought it when new issues arise. The goal would be to reach decisions quickly, and that the FAA takes into serious consideration.
Like our report, both bills want the FAA to use more delegation when certifying new products. Delegating certain aspects of the certification process is something that the FAA, and its predecessors, have done since the 1920s. Currently, this is done through the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program. Roughly 80 companies are part of this program, in which the FAA allows the company’s employees to act on its behalf and conduct certain certification functions themselves. In our report we suggest that the FAA should delegate more low-risk aspects of certification and concentrate its work on area that are potentially more risky. Also, when delegation is used, each entity’s role and responsibilities must be clearly defined. This will avoid situations where a company is expecting to do the work a certain way, but then the FAA decides to change procedures mid-process. The new bills mandate a review of the ODA program and also makes some tweaks to it.
Another area where the bills address issues highlighted in our report in on the establishment of performance objectives and metrics, which the bills mandate. In our report we also stress the need for those performance metrics, not only for certification but for the agency as a whole.
Besides those recommendations, our report also suggests:
- More use of risk-informed, performance-based standards certification. This is in contrast with the current prescriptive regulations, that many do not allow manufacturers to develop new products the way to want to. With this move, the FAA will develop standards that the manufacturers then have to meet. The FAA then makes sure, using risk-informed methods, that the new products comply with the standard. This is something that actually will become the law of the land in August for smaller, Part 23, aircraft, but that should be expanded to more categories of aircraft, including new users like drones and commercial spacecraft.
- Improvements in training, with the standardization of technical education when possible.
- The need for the FAA to clarify its position on Safety Management Systems, which are essential for organization that want to do delegated work on behalf on the FAA, but might not be necessary for all manufacturers.
- Streamlining of repair stations, the places where many aircraft are maintained, certification (taking into account the type of work a repair station is going to do) and auditing processes (to lessen burden on the FAA and the repair stations themselves).