The FAA’s inability to expand its budget in line with an increasingly large, complex and global aviation industry played a major role in the 2005 decision to expand the delegation system. Certification work increased fivefold between the 1940s and 1990s and has only become more complex since.
“By shifting our inspection focus from reviewing test results to overseeing the designation program, we will be able to more efficiently use our resources while extending our oversight coverage, thereby increasing safety,” the FAA said in the official announcement of the program, printed in the Federal Register on Oct. 13, 2005.
It added, however, that “More than one commenter states that the FAA should be hiring more inspectors, not spending its limited resources creating an organizational designee system.” Public comments from opponents of the new system outnumbered supporters 14 to 11, it noted.
While the agency still signs off on a new plane and key steps along the way, the bulk of the interim work - often 90 percent or more - is done by the designees at the manufacturers. As of 2010 there were about 1,000 FAA engineers and inspectors devoted to design review and inspection, compared with 3,655 designees working for companies on the FAA’s behalf, according to government data.
Boeing has set up a separate group within the company to do the FAA work. Those employees approve the design of the planes except for the key steps and the final “type certificate” for new aircraft, which needs a stamp from FAA officials.
The jobs command respect and draw veterans who are more likely to stand up to pressure from their employers and won’t risk losing their “ticket” - the FAA designee status - by cutting corners, people in the industry say. Candidates choose specializations and typically must pass written and oral exams meant to check their understanding of what a designee, also known as a “designated engineering representative” (DER), does and the limits of their powers.
“I’ve never seen it where a company’s pressure on the DER was strong enough for them to bend from their loyalty to the FAA,” said Richard Lukso, the former president of Securaplane, the company that made the chargers for the 787 batteries. They have unique insight into how companies work, he added, since they come from the inside.
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