GAO report cites concerns on FAA certification

November 3, 2010

A Government Accountability Office review of FAA certification cites industry concerns about variations in the agency’s interpretation of standards for certification.

The majority of stakeholders consulted during the review, including AOPA, told the GAO that they or members of their organization had experienced inconsistencies in FAA certification of aircraft, equipment, or new air operators. Aviation groups expressed concern that these inconsistencies have led to costly delays, which can have a disproportionate effect on smaller operators.

Reps. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Republican leader, and Pete Sessions (R-Texas) requested the GAO report to focus on delays in FAA certification. The report, issued Oct. 7, highlighted industry concerns but found a dearth of quantitative data from the FAA. It said the FAA does not have outcome-based performance measures that would allow it to measure progress toward addressing inconsistencies. The GAO recommended the FAA “develop a continuous evaluative process with measurable performance goals to determine the effectiveness of the agency’s actions to improve its certification and approval processes.”

“Industry stakeholders and experts generally agreed that FAA’s certification and approval processes contribute to aviation safety and work well most of the time, but negative experiences have led to costly delays for the industry,” the report notes. “Industry stakeholders have also raised concerns about the effects of process inefficiencies on the implementation of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)—the transformation of the U.S. National Airspace System from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system of air traffic management.”

AOPA hears from members regarding long delays in the handling of certification, including those for the issuance of air agency certificates for flight schools and charter operators. The association told the GAO that these delays negatively impact the general aviation industry. The FAA has taken measures to address the problem, the GAO report explains, but it has no way to determine if those measures are working. “Without ongoing information on results, FAA managers do not know if their actions are having the intended effects,” it reads.

Mica expressed concern that the GAO report did not show the extent of the problem. “Because of the importance of maintaining our competitiveness and keeping the United States at the forefront in the development of aviation equipment and systems for the future, it is important that we get a better understanding of these problems,” he said. “Therefore, I intend to ask the GAO to look at these issues more closely.

“The FAA must address the inconsistencies and eliminate the costly confusion and delays in its certification process. I am concerned that FAA bureaucrats are making U.S. aviation less competitive, and that if the problems are not quickly resolved, NextGen will be negatively impacted.”