Establishing aviation industry rules and then enforcing them are often cited as the most common tasks that civil aviation authorities perform. But for authorities like the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), a robust home market of manufacturers and service providers means certifications are in high demand.
An interesting trend is emerging as the aviation industry recovers from the 2008-09 economic downturn, however. For reasons that are unclear, certification activity—at least in Europe—is not following suit.
The agency received slightly more than 5,000 certificate applications in 2013—a small decline from the year before, according to figures released in its 2013 annual review. Of these, 3,741—again a slight decline from the prior year—were issued.
Included among the certificates were approvals for big-ticket items like the Rolls-Royce Trent XWB and the Airbus A400M, which earned a restricted type certificate in 2012. But most of the approvals were for far more mundane items—albeit with significant importance in the MRO world. Last year’s sign-offs included 1,360 for type certificate new derivatives, major changes or major repairs. Another 857 were issued for minor changes or minor repair. By comparison, only 15 type certificates or restricted type certificates were issued.
In general, new type design applications are on the decline, while requests for major changes and derivatives are on the rise.
The big-picture numbers suggest that what was viewed as a temporary blip in applications has become the new reality.
In 2008, the agency sorted through 7,283 new applications—a 14% jump from 2007. By 2009, new certificate applications were down to 5,582, a figure that fell about 15% short of projections, the agency noted in its 2009 annual review. “This is probably a short-term trend,” the agency reasoned then. It issued 4,472 certificates in 2009, or about 16% more than in 2013.
By 2011, applications were down to about 5,000, while certificates issued totaled 3,823. Despite a note that new projects from emerging markets such as China and India were “expected” in 2012, the figures have remained at roughly the same levels.
EASA’s workload is relevant for several reasons, with prioritizing resources being the most obvious one. Another is revenue generation. EASA’s Europe-based certificate holders fund about 70% of EASA’s annual budget, while another few percentage points come from foreign entities with European operations, such as maintenance providers with repair stations in Europe.
“In 2013, the agency paid particular attention to resource optimization in an effort to perform its planned activities within budgetary constraints,” EASA explains in its latest annual report.
In all but the most extreme cases—such as when an aircraft is grounded—certification workload takes a backseat to immediate safety issues, such as issuing airworthiness directives. EASA pushed out 350 directives in 2013, including 193 for transport-category aircraft.
A version of this article appears in the November 3/10 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology.