Washington, DC — A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of the FAA programs to certify aircraft, aviation equipment and systems found irregular procedures, delays and consistency problems.
Because of a lack of uniform standards and evaluation criteria, the FAA certification of new aircraft, parts, equipment, and aviation system components is often delayed, according to the report. The resulting time lost and the expensive duplication of processes puts U.S. firms at a disadvantage, needlessly inflates costs, and results in lost economic opportunities for the U.S. aviation industry. If not addressed, the United States could stumble in the race to develop the next generation air traffic control system.
The GAO report requested by U.S. Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican leader, and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) was intended to focus on problems U.S. manufacturers have in getting FAA certifications in a timely manner.
“I have heard from many U.S. aviation operators and manufacturers about their concerns with the scope and magnitude of varying regulatory interpretations and their impact on industry,” Mica said. “Unfortunately, I believe the GAO report does not show the extent of the problem, and industry groups I have heard from agree. Reports I have received indicate the situation is far worse than reflected in the GAO’s findings.
“Because of the importance of maintaining our competitiveness and keeping the United States at the forefront in the development of aviation equipment and systems for the future, it is important that we get a better understanding of these problems,” he continued. “Therefore, I intend to ask the GAO to look at these issues more closely. The FAA must address the inconsistencies and eliminate the costly confusion and delays in its certification process. I am concerned that FAA bureaucrats are making U.S. aviation less competitive, and that if the problems are not quickly resolved, NextGen will be negatively impacted.”
The report (GAO-11-14) is titled “Aviation Safety: Certification and Approval Processes Are Generally Viewed as Working Well, but Better Evaluative Information Needed to Improve Efficiency.”
Commercial airframe and avionics manufacturers have long been concerned that variation between different FAA field certification offices for equipment approvals adds cost and timeline burdens. According to the report, this is not a recent concern, having been cited in studies over the past 14 years. The inconsistent interpretation of regulations ranked as the most significant problem with FAA’s certification and approval process.
A 2008 independent review team appointed by then DOT Secretary Mary Peters found that a wide degree of variation in “regulatory ideology” among FAA staff continues to create the likelihood of inconsistency in decisions both within field offices, and between many field offices.
Inconsistencies lead to certification delays and extra cost burdens. For example, one aviation industry representative reported that delays in his company’s approval by FAA field offices resulted in a five-year delay and a million dollars in additional costs. Another company abandoned its effort to obtain operating certification, at the cost of $1.2 million, and never received an explanation from the FAA for the application’s delay.
A lack of effective communication mechanisms contribute to the difficulties in certification and approval processes, industry officials add.
The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) will create more workload for FAA’s certification and approval offices, and there are concerns that the added burdens and costs of the FAA certification and approval processes will discourage aircraft operators from investing in NextGen equipment. Furthermore, NextGen avionics certification approvals will likely have priority over manufacturers’ certification applications for routine non-NextGen avionics and airframe improvements.
The GAO recommends that FAA determine the effectiveness of actions to improve the certification and approval processes by developing a continuous evaluative process and use it to create measurable performance goals for actions, track performance toward these goals, and determine appropriate process changes.
The GAO also urged FAA to develop and implement a process in Flight Standards to track how long certification and approval submissions are wait-listed, the reasons for wait-listing, and the factors that eventually allowed initiation of the certification process. FAA should then use this data to assess the extent of wait-listing delays and reallocate resources to better meet demand.
For more information: GAO.gov