FAA faces dilemma over 737 MAX wiring flaw that Boeing missed
Garneau pledges to overhaul aircraft validation procedures a year after Boeing 737 Max disasters
Over roughly the past two decades, the global air certificators have worked assiduously to establish two advances to the way they perform their safety work. The two independent, yet parallel projects required considerable consultations among the primary CAAs with substantial jurisdiction over small and transport category aircraft.
GLOBAL AIRCRAFT CERTIFICATION NETWORK
There were cross-examinations of their peer agencies’ staff, standards, processes and integrity. Over time the lengthy reviews created a level of trust between and among these authorities to justify the creation of a system of bilateral aviation safety agreements (BASAs), a higher level of comity than previous bilateral aviation agreements (BAAs). The purpose of this system of BASAs is to facilitate the reciprocal airworthiness certification of civil aeronautical products imported/exported between two signatory countries.
These CAAs recognized that the development of airplanes was increasingly international with companies in multiple countries initiating new projects and equally with outsourcing of wings, structures, sections of airframes, avionics, etc. to companies located around the globe, The respective regulators did not have the staffs to effectively surveil these aeronautical ventures outside of each’s physical reach. Thus, a BASA would allow Country C to recognize the airworthiness determinations by Country A for products manufactured in Country A.
These posts tell some of the tales of this evolving regulatory regime:
Comes now, the Honourable Marc Garneau, the Canadian Minister of Transport, a former astronaut, a PHD in electrical engineer and Member of Parliament. As recently as July 7, 2019 Canada reaffirmed one of its BASA agreements. The prefatory paragraphs of the June 2000 agreement state:
THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA, hereinafter referred to as the “Contracting Parties”
DESIRING to promote aviation safety and environmental quality,
NOTING common concerns for the safe operation of civil aircraft,
RECOGNIZING the emerging trend toward multinational design, production, and interchange of civil aeronautical products,
DESIRING to enhance cooperation and increase efficiency in matters relating to civil aviation safety,
CONSIDERING the possible reduction of the economic burden imposed on the aviation industry and operators by redundant technical inspections, evaluations, and testing,
RECOGNIZING that the standards and systems for airworthiness and environmental approvals and airworthiness acceptance of maintenance approvals and modifications or alterations, as established in the Agreement for reciprocal acceptance of airworthiness and environmental approval, effected by exchange of notes at Ottawa on August 31, 1984, are already sufficiently equivalent to permit acceptance by each Party of the findings of the other party,
RECOGNIZING the mutual benefit of improved procedures for the reciprocal acceptance of airworthiness approvals, environmental testing, and development of reciprocal procedures for recognition of the approval and monitoring of flight simulators, aircraft maintenance facilities, aviation training establishments and the certification and authorization of maintenance personnel, and persons involved in aircraft maintenance and flight operations,
Transport Canada is reported as taking the following NEW position:
“The federal government is preparing key changes to the way commercial aircraft are vetted in Canada, moves that will give Transport Canada more independence to scrutinize new planes in the wake of the Boeing 737 Max disasters.
Additional requirements, such as independent test flights of all new aircraft by Canadian officials, will be implemented to give Transport Canada more oversight control. THE AIRCRAFT APPROVAL PROCESS HAS LONG SEEN COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD RELY HEAVILY ON THE U.S. FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION TO INSPECT AND CERTIFY BOEING PLANES.
The Globe investigation detailed how Canada signed off on 71 design changes to the 737 Max, but information on the faulty software was not included in the material Transport Canada was given by the FAA.
“We are making changes to improve the rigour of our validation system,” Amy Butcher, a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Marc Garneau, said in an e-mail to The Globe this weekend.
The changes are still being formulated, she said, but will include independent test flights conducted by Canadian authorities on all new planes. Such steps will give the department a more active role in aircraft certification, rather than just verifying the work of the FAA, as was done in the past, and could help prevent similar blind spots in oversight.
Further changes are expected after Canada concludes an international joint investigation into the 737 Max disasters, and will be announced once they are finalized, Ms. Butcher said.
The changes won’t be limited to the 737 Max and will have implications for how all commercial airliners are scrutinized. The process is designed to build layers of checks and balances into the relationship between Canada and the FAA.
“These new practices will continue moving forward and also evolve as we continue to review the system as a whole,” Ms. Butcher said.
“Transport Canada will conduct its own flight testing after the FAA completes their own,” Ms. Butcher said. “Our test pilots, along with Canadian pilots who fly the MAX, will participate in the Joint Operations Evaluation Board that will evaluate the training that will be required for pilots flying the MAX should it return to service.”
That’s quite a declaration by TC; without declaring the BASA void, Garneau’s action basically guts one of its primary purposes.
This is a first move on a global multi-level chess board. The TC move on the first level will set in motion responses from some or all of the players. The next statement by EASA, the UK CAA (no longer an EASA pawn) and other signatories to BASAs will provide better insight into the future of a Global Aircraft Certification network.
If the top level multilateral network fails, will the consequences include more difficult certification for the new Japanese, Chinese and Russian aircraft? The major CAAs will have to provide staff for all of these projects as well as the resumption of the duties thought to be delegated under the BASAs. That additional workload may result in lower allocation of resources to these new and far more taxing certifications.
Will the fallout harm the outsourcing of parts, systems, etc. which have helped OEMs sell aircraft to these countries? The assignment of jobs to aerospace companies has helped
promote aviation manufacturing businesses in new locations; will that trend continue due to the lack of regulatory coverage?
Since aircraft certification became a governmental function almost 80 years ago, an applicant had to demonstrate that the proposed aircraft met certain standards prescribed by the government. These criteria were useful as the technology remained slow in developing. Recently research in materials, manufacturing techniques, electronic systems, controls accelerated, the regulatory rules had to be revised to respond to all of this aeronautical evolution. The process of amending the precise measurements to fit the new challenges slowed down the regulatory approvals.
Another global consensus was reached as to a regimen relying on performance tests; the first iteration applied to small aircraft or FAR 23 regulations. The shift from prescription to performance-based criteria, which uses ASTM to help establish those measures of merit. Here are some posts which will add depth to this theme:
Part 23: The Massive, much awaited revision is here—initial observations on innovative GA aircraft certification by FAA
The new approach relies on hard engineering data rather than pre-existing prescriptions. Boeing flagged a wiring problem in both the B 737 NGs and Max 8s. In doing another system safety analysis, the engineers found that
“electrical wiring doesn’t meet federal aviation regulations for safe wire separation…The wiring vulnerability creates the theoretical potential for an electrical short to move the jet’s horizontal tail uncommanded by the pilot, which could be catastrophic…
“Boeing’s argument rests on the long service history of the earlier model 737, which has the same wiring. That earlier 737 NG model didn’t have to meet the current wiring-separation standards because they came into force long after that jet was certified.
‘There are 205 million flight hours in the 737 fleet with this wiring type,’ a Boeing official said. ‘There have been 16 failures in service, none of which were applicable to this scenario. We’ve had no hot shorts.’”
There is the rub—existing FAR requirement vs. 205,000,000 hours of flight without the failure which the rule is intended to address-PRESCRIPTION VS. PERFORMANCE. To add to the regulatory regime dilemma, EASA seems to say that the existing criteria rather than actual experience should control:
“Furthermore, there’s also pressure from foreign regulators, including the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
‘It’s probably true that if Boeing proposes to do nothing, EASA is going to say, ‘Hell, no,’ the second person said.”
It should be not that the commercial aircraft certification regulations have not been amended; so, the specific criteria are still value.
The FAA faces a conundrum as embodied by these questions—
Accept the Boeing data and move towards PERFORMANCE or to follow the in effect, applicable standards?
Does remaining with prescriptive regimen signal a go slow with the new Part 23 philosophy?
Are the last twelve months of certification controversy a basis for a “reformation”?
Can the regulatory genie be put back in the bottle? The field’s comfort level with this transition is not great; so, maybe it is appropriate to slow the changes down.
Can the FAA, EASA, TC, etc. meet all of their work demands without the new approach as to the new Part 23 philosophy?
These aftershocks from the Max 8 crisis could reform or retrograde the international BASA certification network! Equally the decision on the Boeing wires could retrograde the Performance initiative. Decisions have not been announced, and the FAA must carefully consider its options on these two issues.
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