The FAA says it is making progress on two sets of recommendations aimed at improving regulatory consistency and the certification process, and is redoubling efforts to loop in industry.
The recommendations, delivered by two aviation rulemaking advisory committees, link back to congressionally mandated initiatives passed as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. The regulatory consistency effort focuses on six recommendations, including the critical creation of a master online database for flight standards and certification guidance.
FAA’s top certification executive says the project is ahead of schedule, although completion is years away.
“We are making progress in reviewing our existing databases to assure the information is up to date,” Dorenda Baker, FAA director of aircraft certification services, told lawmakers during a late-April hearing.
Baker told members of the Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security that she was “impressed” by the recent proof-of-concept demonstration of the tool that will eventually link all guidance that relates to Flight Standards and Certification business. FAA adds that it plans to “accommodate the search parameters emphasized by external stakeholders.”
The system vendor is Network Designs Inc.
The timeline for the Dynamic Regulatory System (DRS) has feasibility studies lasting well into 2016. The final public deadline is April 2016, which is when the FAA expects to wrap up its effort to determine whether letters issued by the Office of the Chief Counsel can be included. A more detailed timeline with a projected completion date is expected after the agency finalizes a design concept, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report presented at the hearing.
“In terms of completing development of the system, [FAA] officials told us they are currently ahead of the schedule outlined in the implementation plan and are working on finalizing the design concept for the new system,” GAO says.
The FAA says it has addressed three of the six recommendations: making final rules clearer, and providing more relevant training and better tools to its workforce. It is working to create a “regulatory consistency communications board” comprising agency representatives tasked with clarifying how the regulations should be applied. A sixth recommendation—creating a centralized regulatory communications center—was rejected.
GAO says industry’s primary concern continues to be a lack of consistent dialog with the agency. This mirrors the dissatisfaction expressed at the end of 2014, when GAO last prepared a progress report for Congress.
“Since we reported in January 2015, FAA officials met with stakeholders of the Regulatory Consistency Committee in March 2015 to brief them and further clarify the plan to implement the regulatory consistency recommendations,” GAO reported in its April update. “According to FAA, they are planning to conduct quarterly briefings with the committee stakeholders, starting in June 2015, to provide updates on the progress for addressing the . . . remaining recommendations.”
The certification-related fixes lumped 14 initiatives into six recommendations. As of April, the FAA reported that 13 of the initiatives were either complete or on schedule.
One area of particular interest is expanding the organization designation authorization (ODA) program to make better use of private-sector expertise in conducting some certification work. While industry generally supports ODA, some have expressed concern that the FAA, hamstrung by “staffing shortages and increased workload,” does not have enough resources to oversee designees.
In response, the FAA—working with the Aerospace Industries Association and General Aviation Manufacturers Association—is rolling out an “ODA scorecard” that will be based on qualitative and quantitative data related to safety, FAA involvement, and ODA holder compliance.
“The scorecard will facilitate constructive dialogue between FAA management and ODA holders about compliance, timeliness and any performance improvement enhancements that may be needed,” Baker says. “A national rollup of the scorecard data will also track progress by measuring the overall efficiency and effectiveness of all ODAs.”
Baker told lawmakers that the agency oversees 71 ODAs and more than 2,900 individual designees.
GAO says it is “too soon” to determine whether FAA’s ODA-expansion initiatives adequately address the resource challenges.
Recrafting the FAA’s small-airplane certification regulations, or Part 23, will remain behind schedule. It had an original target date of August 2016, but the final rule date is now September 2017.