Cert. reform hearing highlights frustrations, work ahead

October 31, 2013

The House aviation subcommittee, led by House General Aviation Caucus members Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-New Jersey) and Ranking Member Rick Larsen (D-Washington), turned its attention to ongoing efforts to make the FAA certification process more efficient and cost effective during a hearing held Oct. 30.

Aviation advocates hope the attention from lawmakers will help boost reforms but testimony from the FAA and aviation groups made it clear that much work remains if the agency is going to put an end to long certification delays and inconsistencies among its regional offices.

The wide-ranging hearing was held to check on the FAA’s progress toward implementing the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, a law requiring the agency to develop plans to streamline its certification process and address regional inconsistencies. A more recent measure, the Small Airplane Revitalization Act, would give the FAA a timeline for making changes to its certification process. Although versions of that measure have overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate, no final reconciliation bill has been sent to the president.

AOPA has been deeply engaged in identifying ways to streamline the certification process with the goal of delivering “twice the safety at half the cost.” A series of recommendations from the Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), of which AOPA is a member, would also make it easier for aircraft owners to install new safety equipment and other technological advances in existing aircraft and lower the cost of bringing innovative new designs to market.

At the Oct. 30 hearing, Jeff Guzzetti, assistant inspector general for aviation audits for the Department of Transportation, reported that the FAA has a current backlog of 1,029 air agency certificate applications, which are required for FAA repair stations, Part 141 flight schools, and charter operations. Of that backlog, 138 applications have been awaiting approval for more than three years and one has been stalled since 2006. Such delays prevent new businesses from opening and existing businesses from updating their roster of pilots or aircraft.

Similar delays in processing aircraft certifications have put many promising aviation companies out of business, according to testimony from Pete Bunce, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Bunce noted that in the case of a large project, certification delays can cost manufacturers as much as $10 million per month and may go on for a year or more.

Another persistent problem identified during the hearing is the inconsistency in the way different FAA offices apply and interpret the certification requirements. Tom Hendricks, president of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), testified that in one case it cost an air charter operator $25,000 just to move an aircraft from one FAA region to another because one FAA office would not accept the other’s assertion that the aircraft was in compliance with regulations. The air charter operator had to re-demonstrate the aircraft’s compliance at a cost of $25,000. The company estimated it lost another $200,000 in revenue during the many weeks the aircraft was out of service awaiting FAA approval.

Participants in the hearing also noted that FAA failure to certify needed equipment for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is preventing aircraft operators from realizing the benefits of the NextGen Air Transportation System, further delaying the already overdue program.

While the FAA cited lack of resources and personnel as key reasons for the ongoing problems, Guzetti noted that the system of allocating available resources is also to blame. He suggested that the FAA move away from a first-come-first-served model and triage incoming certification requests, allowing the agency to reduce the backlog by handling simple matters quickly rather than forcing them to wait behind complex issues that could take months or years to resolve.

Elizabeth Tennyson

Elizabeth A Tennyson | Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications, AOPA

Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.