Friday afternoon, Sept. 12, the FAA announced its agreement with the findings of its Eclipse 500 VLJ special certification review team that the EA500 was properly certificated but that the agency could improve policies and communication procedures used during future VLJ certifications. The EA500 SCR was prompted by concerns raised by FAA employees and Congressional pressure.
The FAA’s Acting Administrator, Robert Sturgell said, “This review tells us that while we made the right call in certifying this aircraft, the process we used could and should have been better coordinated.” He added the agency was committed to adopting the SCR team’s six concrete recommendations as a result of their Eclipse certification review -- and that lessons learned from the EA500 certification and the SCR will help the agency as it processes the approximately eight other pending VLJ certification applications.
The SCR team, all FAA employees, none involved with the Eclipse certification, led by former Boeing executive Jerry Mack were: Jerry Baker, Associate Aircraft Certification Manager for Flight Testing; Jim Richmond, Aircraft Certification Service Flight Program Manager; Vivek Sood, Manager of Safety Analytical Services; Peter Skaves, Special Projects Team Lead; Ali Bahrami, Manager, Transport Airplane Directorate and Ron Wojnar, Senior Advisor, Flight Standards Service.
The SCR team determined that, for the most part, in-service difficulties were not related to the aircraft’s certification process, but nonetheless certain issues identified in Service Difficulty Reports from EA500 operators need further attention from the agency.
Although the team noted it is common to encounter technical problems during type certification of a new airplane, a lack of commonly used internal FAA documentation caused the perception that the Eclipse might not have been properly certified. It also cited a lack of effective communication between Eclipse and the FAA, and between the responsible offices within the agency.
Sturgell said that the FAA agrees with all of the findings and recommendations in the report and is committed to taking the appropriate steps to ensure that increased communications and better procedures are put in place as the agency moves forward with the certification of this new category of aircraft. Specifically, Sturgell stated that the agency is committed to acting on all of the SCR team recommendations issued Sept 12 that:
- The FAA should develop guidance for demonstrating compliance to regulatory requirements based on a combination of software and system development processes.
- The FAA should revise Advisory Circular 23/1309-1C, Equipment, Systems, and Installations in Part 23 Airplanes, to address the emergency procedures for turbine engine airplanes weighing 6000 lb. or less maximum certificated weight.
- The FAA and Eclipse should conduct a root cause analysis of the operational trim and mistrim issues being reported in the field.
- The FAA and Eclipse should conduct a root analysis of the trim actuator failures documented through the SDR system and other in-service reports.
- All cognizant FAA offices within the Aviation Safety Organization should work together to establish appropriate correction for fire suppression bottle failure issues documented through the SDR system and other in-service reports.
- The FAA should reevaluate the criteria for applicability of function and reliability testing.
Despite these efforts the FAA’s certification processes and its performance-based incentive system are likely issues to come under fire at the Sept. 17 House hearing.