Printed headline: Pass the Buck
The FAA is considering incorporating examiner functions into its Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program, a move the agency says should help address a growing shortage of designated mechanic examiners (DME). If the change occurs, it should alleviate bottlenecks for students taking the mechanic certification exam.
While the FAA has delegated examiner functions to individuals for a long time, the growing demand for airman testing necessitates program expansion, something agency officials say is not viable under the current framework. Use of ODA puts the onus on a private organization to manage its own “unit member” examiners, while the government oversees the organization’s adherence to an FAA-approved quality system.
According to the FAA databases, there are 247 mechanic examiners. Given projected workforce needs, agency officials have said they would like to see the number increase by 50% through ODA administration.
The FAA currently delegates eight types of approval authority to organizations: type certification, production certification, supplemental type certification, technical standard order authorization, major repair and alteration approval, parts manufacturer approval, airman knowledge testing and certain air operator certifications. A revision to agency guidance material is intended to expand the current program to include organizational delegation for both the mechanic and pilot examinations.
ODA applicant criteria provided in 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 183 and FAA Order 8100.15 requires eligible organizations to have sufficient facilities, resources, personnel and experience to perform the authorized functions. Applicants also must develop and maintain an approved procedures manual and quality system, designate a program administrator and oversee unit member performance, qualifications and training.
An initial agency proposal would limit ODA examination eligibility to organizations that hold 14 CFR Part 121, 141, 142 or 147 certificates. After meetings with external stakeholders, agency officials have said they also will consider inclusion of Part 145 repair stations as well.
Unit members would be required to relinquish individual designations but retain a “path back” for previous designees who leave ODA employment. Suggestions also were made to require a feedback loop from the examiner to the ODA holder as part of the approved quality system, something mechanic schools say is missing in the current system.
Finally, while an ODA holder most often would be an educational institution, unit members would have the flexibility to test any applicant for a mechanic certificate under Part 65, allowing an organizational designee to expand its reach and serve those graduating from another school or applying for airman certification on the basis of experience.
The Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics’ (PIA) director of campus operations, Gary Hoyle, says the proposal would be a game-changer for airman certification. The FAA-certificated aviation maintenance technician school is one of only a few that integrates a path to mechanic certification directly into its program. Last year, 96% of PIA graduates took the FAA mechanic certification test. That is nearly 25 points higher than the national average, according to a recent Aviation Technician Education Council survey.
Hoyle says DME availability is the single biggest threat to achieving airman certification for his graduates. “Last year, we had nine DMEs test 128 applicants across campuses in three different states. It’s a monumental task,” Hoyle says. “Having the ability to manage our own examiners will lighten the load for our instructors and make testing more accessible for our students.” Students at PIA Hagerstown (Maryland) have no access to a local DME, so those students have to travel 3 hr. to test in another state.
The ODA expansion proposal comes shortly after publication of FAA Order 8900.485, which brought long-awaited relief for pilot applicants. In an effort to address the check-ride backlog—wait lists are known to last up to six months—the agency removed restrictions on where and how often a designated pilot examiner can test. The change is one of a series expected to address practical exam delays that only exacerbate workforce shortages.
Policy revisions that will expand the current ODA program to include examiner designations are expected to be published this summer.