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  • FAA Blasts Aircraft OEMs In (Rare) Must-read NPRM
    Posted by Sean Broderick 2:25 PM on Jan 07, 2010

    Rulemaking documents are typically jam-packed with just-the-facts-ma'am language, scrubbed of any colorful phrases or hints of emotion.

    Every once in a while, though, an agency sheds its bureaucratic skin and delivers an entertaining read.

    In what can legitimately be called an acerbic and even snarky missive, FAA in an NPRM published today blasts six big aircraft OEMs for failing to plan adequately to comply with a March 2008 rule on digital flight data recorder (DFDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) upgrades. The OEMs, claim FAA, didn't note any of the potential compliance problems being cited now when the final rule was being developed just a few years ago, have failed to cite legitimate reasons for the compliance challenges they currently face, and sandbagged their problem-solving efforts and focused instead on getting the agency to move the goal posts.

    The original NPRM was issued in February 2005. FAA noted that among the 53 organizations that responded with comments, only three noted issues with with compliance times. (One, NTSB, didn't think FAA was being aggressive enough on some deadlines.) The final rule, issued in March 2008, took these comments into account, FAA said, and set forth new requirements for DFDRs and CVRs on both new designs and, most importantly, planes rolling off assembly lines. The first set of requirements go into effect for planes being delivered starting April 7.

    In May 2009, FAA started getting exemption requests from OEMs and their representatives. In the next seven months, Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Gulfstream, Dassault and Embraer all petitioned FAA for relief from certain requirements in the rule. General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Aerospace Industries Association and Air Transport Association also weighed in with exemption requests. The reasons given by the petitioners were both similar to each other and new to FAA, the agency said--and none  were particularly compelling.

    Bellowed the agency:
    The FAA is seriously disappointed with the manufacturers and other facets of the industry. The identicality and scope of the various petitions appears as a decision by industry not to comply with the April 2010 date, a decision that was made some time ago.

    Through contact with the petitioners, the FAA was made aware that one of the current circumstances appears to be the lack of equipment design and integration that begins with avionics equipment manufacturers. Most glaringly, in none of the petitions do the airframe manufacturers indicate that they had properly planned for regulatory compliance and are petitioning now because they are unable to obtain timely delivery of the necessary equipment. Nor is there any evidence that the airframe manufacturers have pressed the suppliers for timely delivery of either design modifications or equipment.

    None of the petitions addresses the clear failure to plan for and implement a regulatory requirement that was first proposed in 2005. Only the GAMA petition states that economic circumstances have changed enough to warrant a change to the compliance time.
    FAA further clubbed the OEMs for apparently putting all of their efforts into identifying the problems, and none into solving them:
    The FAA is unable to conclude from the information presented in the petitions that another two to three years is necessary to incorporate the changes in newly manufactured aircraft. The petitions contain little indication that any concerted effort was undertaken to comply, nor was the agency presented evidence as to dates or time of equipment delivery that supports the requested extensions. At best, the petitions contain reasoning why it is important to get the equipment coordinated between aircraft systems, not acceptable reasons why efforts have been lacking thus far.
    Some of the petitioners asked for approval to keep delivering aircraft under the current standards even after the effective date for the new standards, and allow operators to retrofit. FAA wasn't happy about that, either:

    The FAA has been put in an untenable position with these petitions. The option of granting exemptions to every new aircraft produced and delivered to U.S. operators between April 7, 2010, and as late as 2013 would present a huge burden on the agency and the affected operators. Such exemptions would have to be granted to operators on an individual aircraft basis when each aircraft is delivered. According to the manufacturers’ petitions received thus far, this effort would involve over 400 airplanes. Further, these airplanes would be granted exemption only until they could be modified with the upgraded equipment. As we noted in the regulatory evaluation in the NPRM, such retrofits are expensive and time consuming, resulting in additional aircraft downtime and maintenance expenses for the operator.

    In the end, FAA saw fit to propose compliance date extensions for some of the 2008 rule's deadlines. Industry comments on this phase of the rulemaking saga are due February 8.

    Probably a docket worth watching, if only for entertainment's sake.

    Tags: om99, NPRM, DFDR, CVR, FAA, Boeing, Airbus

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