Message To Industry On Certification Delays: 'If You Don't Like It, Talk To Your Congressman'
News and Analysis By John Ylinen
At last week's AEA meeting in Washington, D.C., several representatives of the FAA were on hand to present an update on operations to the attendees. Among the takeaways from the discussion is that companies could not expect to see any break in the logjam of product certifications due to staffing and funding levels at the agency.
John Hickey (pictured), Deputy Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, began his PowerPoint presentation ... one of many to be shown ... with a slide showing the three versions of the iPad, and a discussion the amazing first day sales. He said the challenge for AEA and the FAA is to provide the same level of innovation to aviation; his point being that consumer innovation is happening at ever increasing rates and he knows that Avionics was trying to utilize this same innovation.
Hickey said that, while the agency was glad they had gotten a long-term authorization bill, it also takes an appropriations bill to have a budget. So there is still much in limbo on what they will really get when that budget is finalized. The authorization bill only provided a 0.7% increase in the FAA's budget from 2010 for a total of $15.9 billion, and to the AEA community he made the point that the FAA will not have the man power to perform oversight and certification responsibilities in a timely manner. He said that a potential sequestration is also of great concern.
The only question for which there was time ... due to the representatives using all their time to make PowerPoint presentations ... dealt with the Designated Engineering Representative (DER) and Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) programs, which might help expedite the certification process. Hinkey said that most members of Congress do not understand the DER and ODA process, and those that do don't like it. He said all it would take is one incident of an DER/ODA part causing an incident or accident and the whole program would be killed.
He said that the FAA would not lower their certification regulations or requirement even though they don't have the manpower to keep up with the number of new products in the pipeline, and if the members of AEA don't like it they should take that up with Congress and get them more funding. Clearly, the FAA feels that they have a gun at their head from Congress and won't make any changes to their oversight of this industry unilaterally. He said that the FAA had come up with a prioritization system for certification requirements, and all of the AEA needs would go on the list.
It was unclear what the priority process was and how it could be affected. The AEA community was very disappointed that the FAA would not consider more use of DER/ODA. He did say he would take this issue back to the staff for additional consideration. Of concern is how many product updates are being held up just for part supplier changes. Simple things like new electrical parts replacing a part that is no longer made. Garmin and Avidyne are just two examples of companies with product updates that are tied up in the certification process.
Earl Lawrence, Manager of the Small Airplane Directorate, was a breath of fresh air at the forum. On the job only for about 18 months, Lawrence provided an update on the Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC). He said his major concern is the recent number of aircraft accidents due to stall/spin and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). His analysis is that 30% of fatal accidents could have been prevented with seat belt air bags, and the agency is also considering the same for BRS chutes. He wants to come up with a fleet wide STC for both.
In his discussion of the Part 23 ARC, Lawrence showed a chart that compared aircraft to ground transportation across the spectrum of aircraft from LSA to heavy iron. Then there was another graph comparing ground transportation from motorcycle to large bus. His point was that there needs to be different levels of certification based on the complexity and size of the product. He compared an LSA to a motorcycle. He had a sedan next to a 4 seat aircraft. He said that he had given the ARC the mission to cut accidents by 50% and the cost of certification by 50%. He even mentioned the recent announcement by Vertical Power of the auto-land product as one that he would welcome coming to certified products. He talked about making light aircraft more stall resistant and how new autopilots were helping.
It appears that Lawrence is clearly attempting to make bold changes in light aircraft. This is the most important regulation change coming for the GA community to monitor, next to the unlead fuel ARC, and it will be interesting to see if he can accomplish his vision. He said the ARC should have its proposals out as early as this summer.
Aero-Analysis by contributer John Ylinen: We at Aero-News wish Mr. Lawrence all the best in his modernization of Part 23 Certification process. This effort is critical to reviving light aircraft development and sales. We hope that the FAA will determine a better way to regulate and certify the avionics innovation. As to the request by Mr. Hickey for more funding; the FAA is one of the only agencies that have significant control of their budget. 2/3s of their budget comes from users fees in the form of fuel and ticket taxes. Instead of having Congress providing them more funding from the general fund, all the FAA has to do is modernize their regulatory control over aviation and cause GA to grow. They then would have more and more funds to provide certification oversight.
It would also be nice to see the FAA consider the users of the system more as customers, and work with the industry to improve safety and innovation. Delays in certification are having a direct impact on safety with changes being held up. We hope the FAA does not hold the industry hostage to try and make a point to Congress that cuts in the FAA budget would adversely affect safety. An unscientific survey of AEA members in attendance did not find any of the FAA certification process for avionics having improved a product or found any safety of flight issue. One member commented that for his 1 pound product he had to submit 20 pounds of paperwork to the FAA, most of which they did not read. During the FAA presentations; they did not provide any detailed information on how their current process and regulations have improved the quality of the aviation products that they certified. It could be that the current process has only grown to be onerous and of little actual value to the public or the