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Opinion: Asia Needs Its Own Joint Airworthiness Authority

With growing airline traffic, it is time for an Asian regional equivalent of the FAA.

Printed headline: Asia Rules?

Consider these facts: The Asian commercial aircraft fleet is the world’s largest and will be double that of the European fleet in 15-20 years. It will also have a growing Asian-produced aircraft base as well as multiple types of carriers—including mega-carriers.

The Asian public’s propensity to travel is far behind the rest of world, but with a fast-growing middle class, that will increase. Some areas of Asia such as Indonesia and India require air travel as a main mode of transportation. This is preferable to upgrading a more traditional road and rail system that would be inefficient in these places.

On the regulatory side of things, there are a multitude of audit requirements—often reaching into the hundreds per year for large organizations with multiple customers. Why? Because many Asian national airworthiness authorities (NAA) have their own rules, although most that have a real choice seem to be harmonizing around European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) rules.  

So today we have the requirement that we follow individual NAAs, which are by default also bound by FAA and EASA rules, primarily due to major OEM’s locations plus contractual requirements that come from leasing companies, for example. Our focus on keeping in line with FAA and EASA constrains global entities in Asia and elsewhere to meet standards set for U.S. or European companies.

But in 15 years’ time, will we want that, and will that be the situation? Simple bilateral agreements that take years to develop and ratify will not bridge the gap. Coordination between  FAA and EASA is (politely) slow. So what do we have?

If we wish for things to be different in, say, 15 years, we have to start doing something now.

My view is that we need the equivalent of an old-style joint airworthiness authority (JAA). I do not wish to see an “all-powerful” EASA-type of organization, but more formal arrangements between member states along the lines of harmonization and mutual recognition.

How would that be set up? And who would benefit?

The ultimate owner must be the airlines because the NAA ultimately serves them. The other interested parties are the MROs and OEMs that also help to pay for the NAAs, and the NAAs themselves that help deliver what is needed—safe and reliable aircraft and the associated essential infrastructure and systems.

It may be difficult for one NAA to take the lead, and even if one does so, that may cause suspicion or concern among the others.

Given this situation, a starting point might be the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA) technical committee, which could draft a request that its airline members should—in a coordinated manner—ask their respective NAAs to develop an Asian JAA to start the ball rolling. The AAPA technical committee—which has engineering and maintenance, as well as flight operations and safety working groups—should, in my view, represent the MRO industry as well as airline engineering departments.  

Is this an overnight task? No. Are multiple bilateral agreements the final answer? No. Is standing still an answer? No.

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I recently attended Aviation Week’s Asia-Pacific MRO event in Singapore where I posed this question during a panel of NAAs: Should we have an Asian JAA?

This idea seemed to elicit a positive reaction from some members of the panel and also from the audience.

I also visited Frankfurt, for the European Aviation Maintenance Training Committee. It is a great organization that seems to be working well with EASA to help develop rules the industry wants. But why were three members of the Hong Kong NAA represented there? The answer is that this body has influence over EASA, and the implications of not having its views taken into consideration are potentially huge. EASA takes guidance from the European Aviation Maintenance Training Committee, hence its importance. In the U.S., another industry body, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, has significant clout with the FAA about MRO-related matters.

NAAs in Asia may say they are working together closely. This is fine, but unless we develop an Asian equivalent of EASA or the FAA, then we will just have individual countries selectively talking with the FAA and EASA, and from an inferior position.

Hayman is CEO of Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Aviation Services Research Center and chairman of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers Aircraft division.

 

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