October 30, 2013
Inefficient certification processes are delaying hundreds of new applications for aircraft operations and repair stations, says Jeffrey Guzzetti, assistant inspector general for aviation audits for the Department of Transportation.
The agency’s ability to process new applications was just one of several areas of its oversight that came under scrutiny in a House aviation subcommittee hearing Oct. 30, with other concerns involving the agency’s ability to keep up with certification of NextGen projects, its use of the delegation system and the agency’s lack of consistency in certification and regulation.
Guzzetti, who appeared before the committee, notes that 1,029 new applications are pending for air operator and repair station certificates across the country. Of those, 138 have been delayed for more than three years and one has waited since August 2006.
Guzzetti cites numerous reasons for the delays, including FAA’s certification process itself. FAA does not have an effective approach to prioritize certifications, he says, adding it uses a first-come, first-served approach. “As a result, many applicants may be significantly delayed if more complex certifications are ahead of them,” he says. A large Part 135 applicant that requires extensive inspector time and effort could delay all new certifications, he says. FAA does have flexibility to jump ahead to less complex approvals, but rarely uses this flexibility. FAA is working on guidance to streamline its approach.
FAA also lacks a standardized process for new certifications, and new certification work has been disrupted several times over the past three years as the agency has tried to manage workflow involving existing certificate holders, Guzzetti notes.
He also expresses concern about FAA’s ability to keep up with what will be a significant increase in workload as more NextGen technologies and unmanned aircraft come online. “FAA’s ability to certify complex systems and new technologies is a critical factor in the successful implementation of NextGen and provide benefits to airspace users,” he says. This is particularly true for the success of the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) program, given the 2020 deadline for operators to install ADS-B Out technology.
FAA has certified some rule-compliant avionics and more are anticipated over the next couple of years. But in addition to certifying the equipment, FAA also must certify the procedures, further adding to the agency’s workload, he says.
Guzzetti notes FAA’s delegation system, the organization designation authorization (ODA), can help FAA to manage its resources. But he cautions that as ODA grows, “it remains critical that adequate oversight controls are in place to ensure that qualified individuals are properly certifying critical aircraft components.”
At the direction of Congress, FAA has been taking steps to improve and streamline its certification process. This includes the development of consensus recommendations with industry representatives on reforming the aircraft certification process. Dorenda Baker, FAA director of the Aircraft Certification service, told the aviation subcommittee that the agency is regularly meeting with industry on the joint recommendations, which include more thoroughly using its delegation authority. In addition, FAA has established an Aviation Rulemaking committee to update Part 21 standards for certification of aircraft products and parts.