What FAA delegation does—how and why?

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News reports about the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the Boeing 737 MAX8, the FAA and Boeing have offered a variety of “expert” opinions on the certification process. In particular, these talking head have thrown the terms “designated airworthiness representative’ (DAR) and “designated engineering representative” (DER) with little care and precision. Based on their alleged insights into these complex safety functions, used by every nation which certificates aircraft, they cast aspersions on the integrity of the FAA’s processes which validated the airworthiness of this aircraft.

Many individuals who actually hold DARs and/or DERs have been offended by the criticisms offered by these media stars who really have little or no direct experience with these important resources which the FAA and other civil aviation authorities use mostly because the governmental organizations do not have individuals knowledgeable enough to judge the airworthiness of the system, part, material, hardware, software, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

FAA Delegation – Why We Have It, How It Works

It’s not widely known that the FAA delegation system is approaching its 80th birthday, and the form of delegation that Boeing used to certificate the 737 Max harkens back to 1956, when the first Delegation Option Authorization (DOA) was issued by the FAA. Despite its unfortunate acronym, the basic DOA concept has successfully evolved over time to become the Organization Delegation Authorization (ODA) that we have today.

From the FAA website:

“ODA holders are typically authorized to conduct the types of FAA functions which they would normally seek from the FAA. For example, aircraft manufacturers may be authorized to approve design changes in their products and repair stations may be authorized to approve repair and alteration data.”

“Regular FAA oversight of an ODA is accomplished by a team of FAA engineers and inspectors to ensure the ODA holder functions properly and that any approvals or certificates issued meet FAA safety standards.”

When examining delegation as a matter of practicality, the FAA Aircraft Certification organization is responsible for ALL aircraft design and production approvals in the US and around the world. The AIR discipline has about 1100 employees — 400 are dedicated to administrative and management personnel. So roughly 700 individuals are responsible for ALL design approvals, production & continued airworthiness of everything that flies and of that, maybe 400 are engineers. Well under 100 of those engineers are assigned directly to Boeing.

Now, according to the Boeing website, it has over 45,000 engineers spread throughout the entire company. Such a deep roster of talent, the aerospace company has incredibly deep and specific expertise for new designs and to manage the safety and airworthiness of the nearly 14,000 Boeing airplanes flying today.

This legislation and subsequent additional amendments were Congressional recognition that the FAA cannot be reasonably expected to have detailed oversight of an extremely complex airplane such as the Boeing 737 Max. In addition, Boeing and all other manufacturers of airplanes, helicopters, engines, propellers, balloons, and even windshields and wheels carry with their products the ultimate accountability and liability of their products, right down to every nut, bolt, wire and rivet.

Obviously, all Civil Aviation Authorities have limited internal competence compared to the manufacturers of airframes and powerplants subject to their jurisdiction. Governments cannot afford to pay the salaries of PHDs needed to assess the adequacy of the engineering designs included in a proposed aircraft. To deal with that imbalance, all CAAs qualify and designate these external resources.

Congress, as long ago as 1950, specifically authorized the appointment of designees. One reason given for this clarification was “FAA was clearly in need of private sector expertise to keep pace with the growing aviation industry.”

FAA delegation is a system of direct oversight which, over decades of successful safe aircraft certifications have proved that this certification regime, based on individual and organizational trust, is a regime with high integrity and even higher safety record.

To paraphrase a relevant FAA directive, a designee must have the ability to maintain the highest degree of objectivity, adequate time to perform assigned duties, and adequately represent the FAA. Also, no one MAY force a designee to approve technical data that (s)he hasn’t had enough time to review, or doesn’t find to comply with the applicable regulations. A designee must also report any coercion by an applicant to the FAA. When a designee complains of undue pressure from an employer, the FAA takes it very seriously and will investigate and take appropriate action when needed.

Further, the FAA does not simply delegate and leave the certificate holder to its own devices. They authorize delegation project by project, and they “retain” findings of compliance in areas that are critical, novel and unique, or that the FAA has found to be safety critical. They then audit programs on a regular basis and monitor progress through frequent contact.

There is also an established legal basis that allows the FAA to delegate. In a 1984 lawsuit, “United States vs Varig Airlines” the Supreme Court decided “[u]nder this certification process, the duty to ensure that an aircraft conforms to FAA safety regulations lies with the manufacturer and operator, while the FAA retains responsibility for policing compliance.” The Supreme Court also stated “. . . a planned program of spot-checking by [Civil Aviation Authority employees], should result in obtaining increased knowledge of conformity of the end product. . . .”  (Note, the CAA is now the FAA.)

Delegation is necessary, and it has been shown to work from the middle of the last century to this very day. We don’t really know what happened between Boeing and the FAA, only time will tell that tale. The delegation system is highly dependent on the certificate holder’s integrity and openness, as well as careful FAA oversight. If one or both of those two elements fail, that delegation may then fail, but it is a mistake to broad-brush the entire system as a failure. We need delegation because it works, when properly managed.

The FAA exercises delegation because it is an extremely effective and proven way to bridge the gap between regulator and certificate holders without hiring hundreds, if not thousands, of highly trained and well-paid experts whose salaries would be paid by your tax dollars.

Delegation is used by every major CAA, has been reviewed and repeatedly approved by Congress while establishing a reliable track record.


 

 

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6 Comments on "What FAA delegation does—how and why?"

  1. Not only does this article clarify the fact that the power of delegation was provided to the agency by the legislators that are now questioning the agency’s use of the power, but certificate holders are always responsible for compliance with the airworthiness standards and other regulations. The Federal Torts Claim Act does not allow the agency to be sued for improper certification or any other activities conducted in the exercise of its authority. There are many examples where the agency directly “approved” a type or supplemental type certificate that did not meet the appropriate standard, yet was immune from lawsuits. That is certainly not the case with any certificate holder that fails to meet the requirements–not only are they subject to civil penalties and certificate actions, but they will certainly be faced with multiple lawsuits from “injured” parties.

  2. Sandy Murdock | March 21, 2019 at 2:42 pm | Reply

    from Greg Feith–As I have taken to FB and LinkedIn to discuss various aspects of both the LionAir and Ethiopian Airline accidents, I decided I needed to unload on stories that have evolved over the last couple of weeks and really peaked in the past few days. There continues to be a definite disconnect between some of the TV “talking heads” with a title and their understanding of reality in various aspects of aviation. Sully Sullenberger decided that he needed to add his voice to a discussion about aircraft system design, aircraft certification, the FAA’s certification processes, and the relationship between the FAA and manufacturers such as Boeing. It is apparent that he felt the need to opine on matters in which he has no expertise in accident investigation or the aircraft certification processes, all of which are outside the realm of flying an airplane. To make statements such as” Boeing and the FAA have been found wanting in this ugly saga that began years ago but has come home to roost with two terrible fatal crashes, with no survivors, in less than five months, on a new airplane type, the Boeing 737 MAX, something that is unprecedented in modern aviation history” is not only baseless and without merit, but irresponsible from an “aviation professional.” What proof has he presented to support such a statement other than his personal dislike for Boeing and/or the FAA? To levy an accusation that, “Staffing has not been adequate for FAA employees to oversee much of the critically important work of validating and approving aircraft certification. Instead, much of the work has been outsourced by designating aircraft manufacturer employees to do the work on behalf of the FAA. This, of course, has created inherent conflicts of interest, when employees working for the company whose products must be certified to meet safety standards are the ones doing much of the work of certifying them. There simply are not nearly enough FAA employees to do this important work in-house” maybe sensational from a media perspective but is again baseless and without merit.
    The FAA responded to Mr. Sullenberger’s comments by providing “MarketWatch” with a simple, but informative explanation of the aircraft certification process. For those of you who may not have seen the response, here are the important portions of what was published by MarketWatch:
    “A spokesman for the FAA responded to Sullenberger’s article with a statement to MarketWatch. “The FAA’s aircraft certification processes are well established and have consistently produced safe aircraft designs,” it said. “The 737-Max certification program followed the FAA’s standard certification process.”
    As part of any certification project, the spokesman said the FAA conducts the following checks:
    • Reviewing any proposed designs and the methods that will be used to show that these designs and the overall airplane complies with FAA standards
    • Conducting certain ground and flight tests to demonstrate that the airplane meets the FAA standards
    • Evaluating the airplane to determine the required maintenance and operational suitability for introduction of the aircraft into service
    • Working with other civil aviation authorities on their approval of the aircraft, based primarily on work already completed by the FAA
    “The process from initial application to final certification for the 737 Max took almost five years. Boeing applied for certification in June 2012. The FAA added it to the 737 type certificate in March 2017,” the FAA statement added….
    Capt. Sullenberger also wrote that much of the FAA’s work has been outsourced “by designating aircraft manufacturer employees to do the work on behalf of the FAA. This, of course, has created inherent conflicts of interest, when employees working for the company whose products must be certified to meet safety standards are the ones doing much of the work of certifying them.”
    MarketWatch stated that the FAA defended its outsourcing practices. “Federal law passed in 1958 authorizes the FAA to delegate to a qualified private person the ability to issue certificates and conduct certain exams on behalf of the agency,” it added. “The Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program is the means by which the FAA grants designee authority to organizations or companies.” ODA holders are typically authorized to perform the types of functions that they would normally seek from the FAA,” it added. “Teams of FAA engineers and inspectors conduct regular oversight of an ODA to ensure any approvals or certificates issued meet the FAA’s strict safety standards. The FAA has issued scores of ODAs nationwide.”
    So before all of the conspiracy believers and JR. investigators weigh in on the subject of aircraft certification and the perceived relationship between Boeing and the FAA, (which has multiple agencies and the public questioning), please do some homework on how the entire aircraft certification process evolves from start to finish with the FAA, and be sure to study the aircraft certification requirements of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). This should give you some insight to the fact that an aircraft manufactured in the U.S., France, Great Britain, Brazil or anywhere else in the world is scrutinized by various certifying authorities. Here is a sample of the EASA process:
    “AIRCRAFT CERTIFICATION”
    Before a newly developed aircraft model may enter into operation, it must obtain a type certificate from the responsible aviation regulatory authority. Since 2003, EASA is responsible for the certification of aircraft in the EU and for some European non-EU Countries. This certificate testifies that the type of aircraft meets the safety requirements set by the European Union.
    The 4 steps of the type-certification process:
    1. Technical Familiarisation and Certification Basis:
    The aircraft manufacturer presents the project to EASA when it is considered to have reached a sufficient degree of maturity. The EASA certification team and the set of rules that will apply for the certification of this specific aircraft type are being established (Certification Basis).
    2. Establishment of the Certification Programme:
    EASA and the manufacturer need to define and agree on the means to demonstrate compliance of the aircraft type with each requirement of the Certification Basis. This goes hand in hand with the identification of EASA’s “level of involvement” during the certification process.
    3. Compliance Demonstration:
    The aircraft manufacturer must demonstrate compliance of its product with regulatory requirements: the structure, engines, control systems, electrical systems and flight performance are analysed against the Certification Basis. This compliance demonstration is done by analysis during ground testing (such as tests on the structure to withstand bird strikes, fatigue tests and tests in simulators) but also by means of tests during flight. EASA experts perform a detailed examination of this compliance demonstration, by means of document reviews in their offices in Cologne and by attending some of these compliance demonstrations (test witnessing).
    This is the longest phase of the type-certification process. In the case of large aircraft, the period to complete the compliance demonstration is set at five years and may be extended, if necessary.
    4.​Technical closure and issue of approval:
    If technically satisfied with the compliance demonstration by the manufacturer, EASA closes the investigation and issues the certificate. EASA delivers the primary certification for European aircraft models which are also being validated in parallel by foreign authorities for operation in their airspaces, e.g. the FAA for the US or TCCA for Canada. Conversely, EASA will validate the FAA certification of US aircraft models (or TCCA certification of Canadian models) according to applicable Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements between the EU and the concerned Third Country.”
    U.S. component parts have this certifying authority and aircraft manufacturers including Boeing have been certified by the FAA,EASA and others using the methodology previously discussed. This process has been successful in certifying aircraft that have been updated or produced as a new aircraft such as the next-gen 737, 747-8, 757, 767, 777, and 787.
    No conspiracy theory or speculation, just education.

  3. Very few if any of these designees have advanced
    degrees such as the PhD which is the gold standard
    for depth of knowledge in any academic subject.
    There for any designee is intellectually defecient
    in general terms of competence in any technical
    subject.

  4. For RJF there are well over 10,000 FAA designees and other persons performing functions under FAA delegations. Some have advance degrees, some have achieved PhD status, some have chosen not too. Achieving PhD is not the gold standard for anything. Is their any data that supports PhD superiority? If there is, please share.

    PS- the USA still has the safest system in the world, thanks in large part to the FAA designee system.

  5. For RJF there are well over 10,000 FAA designees and other persons performing functions under FAA delegations. Some have advance degrees, some have achieved PhD status, some have chosen not too. Achieving PhD is not the gold standard for anything. Is their any data that supports PhD superiority? If there is, please share.

    PS- the USA still has the safest system in the world, thanks in large part to the FAA designee system.

  6. John Vincent | March 22, 2019 at 6:16 am | Reply

    Now that’s the core of it: “The delegation system is highly dependent on the certificate holder’s integrity and openness, as well as careful FAA oversight.”

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