Print headline: Delegations, Not Dependency
As I write this in early January, the partial federal government shutdown has dragged on for weeks, and the aviation industry is starting to feel the pinch from the fact that more than 15,000 FAA workers have been furloughed. A wide variety of agency activities have been indefinitely suspended, including certification and rulemaking.
While folks in aviation often grumble and grouse about the FAA, the reality is that in a highly regulated industry like ours, the agency’s work is essential. Delays in getting new approvals or certificates can mean missed business and career opportunities and lost revenue. Those disruptions can ripple through the workforce, affect air carrier operations and harm the local economies in which repair stations are located.
Whether or not the shutdown has ended by the time this article is read, its very occurrence highlights both a risk and an opportunity. The risk is that our industry will be significantly affected by political squabbles completely unrelated to aviation or, more generally, by inadequate FAA resources; the opportunity is to expand the use of delegations to make industry less directly dependent on the FAA and oversight more efficient.
Note that 49 U.S.C. 44702(d) gives the FAA administrator authority to “delegate a qualified private person, or an employee under supervision of that person, a matter related to the examination, testing, and inspection necessary to issue a certificate, and issuing the certificate.” Through regulations (14 CFR part 183), the FAA has fleshed out its delegation authority and prescribed rules for designating individuals to act on behalf of the administrator as aviation medical, pilot and technical personnel examiners; aircraft maintenance inspectors; designated engineering, manufacturing inspection and airworthiness representatives; and air traffic control tower operator examiners.
Subpart D of part 183 addresses Organization Designation Authorization (ODA), “which allows an organization to perform specified functions on behalf of the administrator related to engineering, manufacturing, operations, airworthiness or maintenance.” The rules prescribe, among other things, specific qualifications, personnel, manual and recordkeeping requirements.
The thinking behind the law and related regulations is fairly simple: The FAA can appoint individuals and organizations that meet certain qualifications to act in the agency’s stead. That, in turn, allows the aviation industry to contract certain FAA tasks to private individuals and companies, avoid the bureaucratic logjam at the agency and obtain an approval more rapidly.
The FAA’s most recent ODA Directory shows they are widely used in design and manufacturing, but the law doesn’t limit ODAs to those purposes. Expanding the use of designees is the way of the future. The industry is growing rapidly, but the FAA’s budget isn’t. Oversight must become more flexible and efficient to keep up. Forward-thinking organizations should consider creative ways to make broader use of ODA to limit their dependence on regulators.
But as you consider the opportunities, it is worth a note of caution. ARSA frequently makes the case that in aviation maintenance, safety is good business. There is a strong economic incentive (not to mention an overwhelming moral imperative) for the MRO community to do quality work, regardless of whether the government is looking over our shoulder. We need to keep that enormous responsibility for safety in mind.
As we do proceed down the path toward more ODAs and more self-regulation, the onus remains on industry to prove that the trust the FAA has given its designees is not misplaced. We’re believers and confident the industry will continue to meet that challenge.
Christian A. Klein is the managing member of Obadal, Filler, MacLeod & Klein, plc, overseeing the firm’s policy advocacy practice. He represents trade associations as a registered federal lobbyist and provides strategic communications and legal counsel services to clients. He is executive vice president of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA)