July 15, 2019

NBAA Chief Operating Officer Steve Brown represented the business aviation community at a July 11 hearing before the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Special Committee to Review the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Process, formed in the aftermath of two fatal accidents involving the Boeing 737 MAX commercial airliner.

“I noted to the committee that business aviation stakeholders interact with the FAA certification process across many levels, as our members include not only aircraft operators but also manufacturers, MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) facilities and suppliers,” Brown said.

Among the hearing topics was the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program, in which the agency grants designee authority to companies and organizations familiar with specific aspects of the certification process. While ODA has come under scrutiny in the MAX investigation, Brown said NBAA believes such delegation remains the best strategy.

“ODA is the most cost-effective means for regulators to be involved in a productive manner while also providing necessary oversight of the entities at the technological cutting edge of the industry,” he continued. “However, on behalf of our members, I suggested that SMS (safety management system) procedures be more greatly utilized in that process to ensure a strong foundation in risk assessment and mitigation.”

Brown also recommended the FAA consider utilizing random “deep dive” reviews, conducted by independent experts or a peer group, to further strengthen the certification process. That could also include strategic reviews independent of pending certification requests.

“For example, an independent group might examine rapidly evolving technologies with potential aviation applications, such as battery capacity, and update the agency on capabilities that could one day be presented for certification,” he said. “Committee members seemed intrigued by the value these reviews could bring to the process and there was extensive discussion about their potential.”

Brown also recommended the FAA consider forming stronger relationships with outside international standards organizations such as ASTM International and RTCA. “We have consistently seen those organizations react more quickly to technological innovation than the FAA is able,” he said.

Variants of the 737 MAX have been delivered to more than 40 commercial airlines worldwide, and two business aviation operators also have ordered the type. Brown noted the committee also discussed new training requirements ahead of returning those planes to service, including additional simulator training.

“NBAA recommended a more practical option would be to utilize in-depth, computer-based training modules addressing specific aspects of MAX operation deemed necessary by regulators and the manufacturer,” he said. “Training in a Level D full-motion simulator could then occur at the next normally-scheduled interval for the pilot.”

The special committee was formed under the DOT’s Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee, established by the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The committee’s recommendations will be presented to the DOT secretary and the FAA administrator.