GAMA’s CEO/President Pete Bunce repeated themes of frustration with the FAA’s slow actions to improve the certification of GA aircraft in a recent testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee.
Bunce and his team are tireless and effective advocates for their members who manufacture general aviation aircraft. Since 2007, they have led a thoughtful reanalysis of how small aircraft are certificated and that resulted in a complete revision of the Part 23 processes and standards. In 2012 the Administrator confirmed that the ARC’s recommendations were excellent and promised quick action. Then, in 2013 GAMA and allied organizations pushed the Small Airplane Revitalization Act (SARA) through Congress into law. It required the FAA to adopt the ARC work product.
The next step in this tortuous path was a House hearing on Aircraft Certification in the summer of 2014; there the bombshell testimony was given by the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety that the Part 23 revisions were not going to make the 2015 deadline and would slip to 2017. To make sure that the FAA got the message, a second hearing was held by T&I on the same subject in January of 2015.
The Senate decided to hold a hearing on the FAA’s overall efforts to improve the process by which all airplanes are examined. At this April 21, 2015 hearing, Mr. Bunce made some specific recommendations to make the process more efficient; they included:
- Ensuring more effective use of delegation programs, including Organizational Designation Authorization (ODA), to utilize FAA and industry resources more efficiently and effectively
- Focusing on workforce initiatives—training, performance objectives, career progression, and skill development—to enable the success of FAA employees
- Encouraging FAA to use metrics and qualitative surveys to provide constructive feedback on FAA and industry certification project performance
- Strengthening FAA international efforts to facilitate the timely acceptance of FAA-certified aircraft abroad
- Supporting efforts to help transition the piston aviation fleet from leaded to unleaded fuel
- Addressing inconsistencies in the interpretation of FAA regulations by different employees and regions of the FAA
As well intended as these suggestions are, the FAA cannot adopt them quickly enough, certainly in the opinion of industry.
In contrast, EASA is making significantly better progress in rewriting, and testing, the revised Part 23. The differential rates appears to be the significantly less complicated process to adopt new rules. It is well documented that the gestation of FAA regulations, encumbered by multiple reviews within the Executive Branch, is overly laborious.
The terms of the Part 23 ARC recommendations, as embodied by SARA, are innovative, effective and exciting. The FAA has been given repeated reminders at three different Congressional hearings that they need to speed up and the result is a two year (if not five year delay). There is very little doubt that the senior Management of FAA wants to implement any sound system which lightens its burdens.
What the FAA does not, and politically cannot, say is that the real problem is the process. Reviews by the Office of the Secretary and OIRA of OMB plus the Paperwork Reduction Act, Controlling Paperwork Burdens on the Public, Identifying and Reducing Regulatory Burdens, Regulatory Analysis, environmental determination, small business assessment and Benefit-Cost Analysis of Federal Program reviews to name a few. The multiplicity and redundancy of the criteria are the problems.
Mr. Bunce’s slow journey may really be symptomatic of a more widespread problem within the FAA regulation-writing function. Preparation of all of the test results and the arduous reviews are slowing the issuance of rules, many of which are driven by the exigencies of safety changes.
The Congress in writing the FAA Reauthorization bill might well consider a truly transformative change—freeing the FAA from all of its overseers. A study by the Administrative Conference of the United States pointed to problems, without regard to the FAA, which are not conducive to efficient NPRM movement. It would be timely now to ask ACUS for recommendations of how the FAA rule-making process might be improved without detriment to fairness.