The Government Accountability Office‘s (GAO) recently issued aviation safety report, “Certification and Approval Processes are Generally Viewed as Working Well, but Better Evaluative Information Needed to Improve Efficiency,” misses the mark in that it fails to provide meaningful information on the root cause and scope of the FAA regulatory interpretation inconsistencies and lacks an insightful analysis on how aviation businesses are impacted every day, say officials with the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). Consequently, it serves only to highlight, again, that there is a problem, association officials note.
The following key failures in the report prevent it from being a useful tool in identifying a path to a long-term solution, NATA officials say:
- The GAO report does not provide any empirical data on the scope of inconsistent regulatory interpretation.
- The report falls short in its attempt to categorize the types of circumstances in which inconsistent regulatory interpretations occur.
- The report does not explore or evaluate the impact on certificate holders of a local inspector’s preference or opinion on how to meet regulatory requirements when previously the certificate holders’ current process was approved by another inspector.
- The analysis omits the key causes of problems in certification and approval processes in flight standards. Those were identified by an expert panel as FAA culture, lack of accountability, rulemaking and guidance development process.
- Implementation of the top two recommended solutions to the issues involved with the certification and approval process — a change in FAA culture (increased accountability) and universal acceptance — was not explored.
- The GAO’s recommended actions are so vague and non-specific as to be only marginally effective in addressing the core problem.
The report does highlight, as has been known, that industry believes there are problems in the FAA’s processes related to certification and approvals. Before these problems can be addressed, a comprehensive evaluation to determine the full extent of this problem, including sufficient data to categorize variations by identifiable events within the certification and approval process, is necessary.
“When the association conducted its review on the impact the lack of FAA standardization is having on the aviation industry, it was clear that respondents were spending an inordinate amount of time and resources complying with varying regional and local regulatory interpretations,” NATA President James Coyne stated. “The GAO report does not address these issues as we hoped it would.”
“Make no mistake about it, the lack of standardization on regulatory interpretations is a continuing and mounting challenge for the aviation industry,” Coyne concluded. “While this report does not address this ongoing concern, NATA will continue to make this issue one of the association’s top priorities in 2011 and beyond to ensure that standardization becomes a reality for our industry.”