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The Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives convened a hearing on Oct. 30 to receive testimony from the FAA and industry groups on the agency's certification process and to determine how delays impact aviation manufacturers and operators across the United States.

Government watchdogs and the general aviation industry painted a grim picture for lawmakers as to how FAA delays in the certification process cost the industry significant sums and severely impact day-to-day aviation operations in the United States. Lawmakers were given numerous examples of how inconsistent interpretations of regulations impact the highly regulated industry.

One suggestion offered was for the FAA to increase safety management systems (SMS) in the process by which the agency serves as regulator in the issuance of type and manufacturing certificates to aircraft, aircraft engines and propellers, as well as aircraft parts and appliances.

Lawmakers are expected to continue their probe into how the FAA operates and find comprehensive legislative solutions to existing delays in the certification process.

The general aviation industry wants more leeway to certify its own products, pleading for ways to help the FAA shrink the backlog of certification applications. Their main recommendation was to continue to expand the FAA's designee program, where employees of a company – or sometimes an entire company – can test their own new products, with FAA oversight, to be certified as safe to use in flight.

Jeff Guzzetti, an assistant inspector general for the Department of Transportation, said there is a backlog of more than 1,000 applications for products seeking certification, and 251 of those are more than two years old. Part of that backlog could be eased, he said, by moving away from a "first come, first served" philosophy for evaluating applications.

The certification bottleneck is mostly due to resources, according to John Duncan, FAA's director of Flight Standards Service. The FAA prioritizes ensuring the safety of the current system, and diverting resources to evaluating new products comes second, he said. When a company applies for a certificate, the FAA evaluates whether it has enough resources to process the initial certification, as well as the ongoing oversight the new product will need. He said resources in the FAA's local offices are evaluated, and if they are unable to help, they broaden the search to other regional offices. "If that can't happen, then the application is placed on the wait list for all practical purposes."

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), a senior member of the committee, echoed the concern that the FAA might simply need more people. "We can talk about all the systems changes we want to make … and all the computer applications and all this streamlining. But if you don't have enough people to provide the critical oversight of the designee program – which I think is a good program when it's properly overseen – it's not going to work." He suggested that if business aviation and manufacturers want the certification process to move more quickly, perhaps "they might be happy to contribute some money to the FAA to hire more people so they could get more timely reviews." His proposal was met with silence from the panel.

Posted in: Government News
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