House Hearing draws Industry Criticism on FAA Certification

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The hearing announced in the below link looked to be a bit mundane, but as the industry witnesses (above) were vocal in their concerns about a lack of improvement in the FAA certification process. Some of the suggested solutions will be in the drafts of the 2015 Reauthorization Act.

On July 23, 2014, Chairman LoBiondo held a hearing entitled “Domestic Aviation Manufacturing: Challenges and Opportunities” before the Aviation Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure. The Staff’s Summary of Subject Matter Memorandum is an excellent review of the technical issues—the state of US aircraft manufacturing, the FAA certification process, Organization Delegation Authority, §§312 and 313 of the FAA Modernization and Reauthorization Act of 2012, Small Aircraft Revitalization Act, International Certification, the FAA’s new risk-based regulatory regime. That sounds rather dry and if the hearing would have stopped after the first panel, it would have been. After the two government witnesses (Ms. Gilligan of the FAA and Dr. Dillingham of GAO) left the hearing, the industry panel was far from boring and as one of the Members commented, provided some spirited testimony.

Peggy Gilligan, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, submitted a prepared statement and her actual testimony summarized the FAA challenge. She mentioned that

· the FAA resources are not going to expand;

· its certification rules are the gold standard of the globe;

· the manufacturers are growing their product (9.2% a year);

· through negotiations, there are 47 countries which, by virtue of Bilateral Airworthiness Safety Agreements, should facilitate the certification of US products overseas;

· the agency has 600 engineers and 200 manufacturing inspectors (note: all represented by unions);

· in order to regulate the industry, it has followed a practice, approved by Congress in 1938 of using designees; and

· under a risk-based safety analysis the standard is to assign the routine certification matter to designees (5,000) and Organization Delegation Authorization holders (80) while the FAA should retain the analysis/review of the highest safety risks.

She did not expand on the problems which her management faces; for example, she did not discuss the resistance of her field to the change to the risk-based regime which is critical to her plan to meet demand with constrained resources.

Next was Dr. Gerald Dillingham, the Director of the Physical Infrastructure Issues of the Government Accountability Office, submitted 28 pages of Report and then highlighted his findings in his oral testimony. By virtue of its “auditing” and its past testimony, it could have been anticipated that the GAO findings would have been harsh. The tenor of the detailed findings of Dr. Dillingham was that the FAA is trying. It is clear that he found that as to the §§312 and 313 mandates of the 2012 legislation, the agency has substantial “cultural” resistance to the risk-based approach (§312), and as to the inconsistency (§313), the FAA is developing the data base which should help it track and resolve variances.

The questions by Chairman LoBiondo NJ), Ranking Minority Larsen (WA), Republicans Buschon (IN), Hanna (IN), Ribble (WI), Meadows (NC), Davis (IL) and full Committee Chairman Shuster (PA) plus Democrats Johnson (TX), Lipinski (IL), Nolan (MN) and Titus (NV) were strongly influenced by the various manufacturers. They pretty much all inquired why the cultural change was such a problem, having been mentioned in last fall’s similar testimony by the GAO. Ms. Gilligan suggested that it will take time; Dr. Dillingham opined that the unions were an impediment to the transition—representing their members who have “succeeded” in the past with a “hands on” approach.

The Congressional questions uniformly wanted to know why the FAA has not been able to define metrics of progress in the planned improvements and the witnesses responded with the difficulty defining output versus outcome (activity as opposed to changes which have measurable improvements).

The questions went on a general theme that the Representatives were more sympathetic with industry than the FAA.Ms. Gilligan pointed out that there are processes defined to elevate inconsistencies, but the House general judgment was that the FAA is too slow. Shuster cited an example of a US manufacturer which had an inordinate delay, even under BASA, with German approval of an FAA TC. The witness was unaware of the specific case.

Some of the issues which would be the focus of the Industry Panel were foreshadowed in this segment, but the volume was significantly increased after Ms. Gilligan and Dr. Dillingham left the room. In fact, before the transition, one Congressman suggested that the industry complaints should have preceded the government testimony.

Marion Blakey, President and Chief Executive Officer

Aerospace Industries Association Of America (and former FAA Administrator), testified first. Her written statement and oral testimony were rather understated in their criticism. She spoke to AIA’s major legislative issue, the reauthorization of ExIm Bank and full funding of NextGen.

Next Peter Bunce, President and CEO, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, submitted written testimony but spoke without notes and with considerable passion. He stated his frustration with the first panel. Both Houses of Congress had unanimously passed the Small Aircraft Revitalization Act which basically codified the general parameters of a detailed revision of a Part 23 ARC and added that the NPRM should be issued by December 2015. He was visibly upset that Ms. Gilligan said that the notice will not be issued until 2 years after that deadline.

He then pointed out that the cultural change is already years in developing and that the “tomorrow” theme needs to be overcome by leadership and incentives. He was very concerned with the continued inconsistencies and in particular basic differences which FAA certification offices exhibited as to use of the risk-based approach and use of designees/ODAs was unacceptable.

Joseph W. Brown, President of Hartzell Propeller Inc., expressed many of the same general themes in his submitted statement and supplemented those views with specific examples in his note less testimony. His two citations involved foreign certification and the value of ODA. His company has replaced diminished North American sales with a 30-50% increase in overseas markets. Hartzell has sought 300 validations with foreign CAAs and even when supported by BASAs, the time consumed is long and expensive. His company held the authority exited before ODA and was strongly suggested by his local FAA that he should invest in and acquire the newer, higher and more efficient ODA. He did so and there has been virtually no increase in the certification process efficiency; more costs and no real improvement, he pointed out.

A constituent of Rep. Larsen, the Air Washington project testified about that state’s cooperative efforts among the community colleges, the aerospace employers and the state to train residents for jobs with the manufacturers. It was interesting testimony, but not strongly related to certification challenges.

Rep. Lipinski asked Mr. Bunce to expound on his frustrations with regard to the SARA’s mandates revision to Part 23. GAMA’s President blamed the inordinate delay on the FAA’s lawyers. He reiterated the phrase used by the agency about the revision—twice the safety at ½ the cost, and yet the movement is glacier like. He also used the example that there are 50 year old tests embedded in the FARs (part 25), which still must be met, even though there is no current relevance. The SARA logic would find that such antiquated criteria are not required. To accomplish the cultural changes, he urged that the working staff receive extensive training on the new normal.

As to cultural change, Mr. Brown asserted that there needs to be an Advocate who would repeat the value of the risk-based approach, the need to rely on designees based on that analysis, to instruct the Certification managers to remind the assigned engineers of the new rubric (not something from which one could opt out).

Ms. Blakey explained that ODA was a concept started when she was FAA Administrator several years ago. She recognized that changing attitudes is a real problem. She observed that the unions are supportive of the staff’s resistance, because of their members have proved individual success on the old “hands on” approach. Without full union support and incentives (bonuses based on real outcomes), she foresees continued caution.

It is quite possible that further oversight by this committee will reoccur. Chairman LoBiondo made it clear that matters like regulatory reform and outcome based incentives are being considered in the next FAA Reauthorization.

[Note; there was considerable dialogue about delay in the FAA’s issuance of the UAS regulations and about the ExIm Bank. Not addressed in this already long post.]

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