What FAA must do about the Boeing ODA?

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Panel Readies Report on FAA Certification Process for Boeing 737

 JATR finds fault with what FAA let Boeing ODA do

FAA certification started major reorganization after TC issued

What Bahrami and Lawrence need to do to address report 

“An expert panel reviewing how the Boeing Co. 737 Max was certified is expected to cite a breakdown in communication following revelations that aviation regulators didn’t understand key design elements until the first of two deadly crashes of the plane.

The Joint Authorities Technical Review hasn’t found evidence that regulations weren’t followed when the jetliner was approved in 2017, according to a person familiar with its work.

Instead, the approval of the plane with what is now seen as a critical safety flaw even though the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s certification process was followed highlights the need for improvements, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak about the review and asked not to be named.

One issue is that the design of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, the safety feature that drove down the noses of the planes in the two crashes, evolved during the development of the plane and the changes weren’t always communicated adequately, the person said.

Some FAA officials were surprised after the crashes to learn that MCAS had the power to cause a dive and to do so repeatedly, according to the person. Better communication during the process would help identify such risks in the future, the group believes.

One of the issues the group expects to address is that much of the FAA’s certification standards were codified during an earlier era when relatively simpler mechanical failures were the norm. Now, aircraft systems often involve more complex computers that interface with aircraft sensors and the humans at the controls, said the person.

The older standards must be updated to take into account the complex emergencies a failure can cause, according to the person.

Part of the problem was that elements of the system were approved by Boeing employees, not FAA engineers. The FAA routinely designates experts at Boeing and other companies to act as government representatives. Their actions should be made clearer to the FAA leadership, the JATR concluded.”


So with the bad news coming from the JATR, chaired by a former NTSB chair and former FAA senior executive, what should the FAA do?

The path to that answer is confused by a internal FAA reorganization, called Air Transformation and started well before the Max 8 mess became apparent. What was euphemistically labelled as “refreshing the certification strategy” was an effort

to consolidate and enhance the FAA technical competence. Further, the Certification Organization, known by its acronym AIR, completed a sea change in how aircraft would be certificated. The new approach was issued for smaller aircraft, Part 23, shifted the regulatory from prescriptive criteria to performance measurements. The transformation did not suit many of the incumbent field AIR staff; so the standards change led to some technical obsolescence.


Though the AIR Transformation was established two years ago (N.B. the announcement was made AFTER the Max8 TC was issued), it is still unclear where certain[1] authorities[2] lie. Sources available to the public do not authoritatively define where future Part 25 certifications will be administered or where oversight of Organization Delegation Authorization will reside.

Those two FAA functions were at the heart of the JART’s criticisms [see above highlighted text.]


Perhaps the first question, which Ali Bahrami,  Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety (starting July 10, 2017) and Earl Lawrence Executive Director, Aircraft Certification Service (starting in 2018) must decide, is what to do with the Boeing ODA. The JART believes that the FAA delegated too much review scope to that independent organization. An ODA is delegated, by statute and specific regulations, to make certain determinations based on their demonstrated technical competence.  That power is exercised on behalf of the Administrator [that authority is described by Mike Borfitz in What FAA delegation does—how and why?].

Once the who and where the FAA person in charge of managing ODAs, it would seem appropriate to carefully reexamine issues like–

What is delegated to the Boeing ODA?

Whether any of the competences acknowledged in the delegation need to be limited, revoked or renewed?

How to insure better communications between the company and the FAA?

What should be added to the FAA supervisory function in terms of expertise, added experts and skills?

NOTE: Congress has expressed interest in “fixing” ODA. This might be a better option A Proposal to respond to the ODA Perception Mess—B737 Max8.

Messrs. Bahrami and Lawrence may have to spend considerable time explaining to the JART member countries and other CAAs whatever ODA changes they have made. There is a need to rebuild the world’s trust in the FAA certification!!!

[1] AIR 700 Compliance and Airworthiness Division Issues all design approvals for both domestic and foreign manufacturers is listed as being located at Fort Worth, TX

[2]AIR 800 System Oversight Division oversees all FAA approvals, certificates, and bilateral partners in addition to designee and delegation programs in Des Moines, WA


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