The certification process for part 121 applicants consists of a pre-application process and a series of five phases and three gates that must be successfully completed when progressing between phases.

Pre-Application Process

This part of the process is the most complex, demanding, and time consuming. Your objective during the pre-application process is to work with personnel at the Certificate Holding District Office (CHDO) to gather the required information and documentation necessary to prepare for the Application process.
A vital part of this process is to gather information and gain an understanding of the importance of implementing a Safety Management System (SMS).  In addition, the applicant should review important voluntary safety programs such as the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), the Flight Operational Quality Assurance program (FOQA), and the Voluntary Disclosure Reporting Program (VDRP).

Application Phases

  • Phase 1: Preapplication. This phase begins when an applicant submits a request to the CHDO for a formal application meeting.
  • Phase 2: Formal Application.  During this phase, the AFS-900 team briefs the CHDO on the certification process. A formal application meeting is tentatively scheduled after the FAA receives all submissions required in the Preapplication Checklist (PAC). Phase 2 ends when the CPT accepts the formal application package and all Gate I requirements are met.
  • Phase 3: Design Assessment. The FAA reviews how well you design, document, and audit your safety-critical processes. These processes must comply with regulations and safety standards and allow you to manage the hazard related risk in your system. Phase 3 ends when all programs have been accepted or approved, and all Gate II requirements have been met.
  • Phase 4: Performance Assessment. The FAA observes and monitors many types of applicant activities to confirm that your operating systems produce the intended results. Phase 4 ends after the successful completion of the proving tests.
  • Phase 5: Administrative functions. The FAA issues an Air Carrier or Operating Certificate and Operations Specifications when you have completed all requirements, phases and gates of the certification process.

The certification process flow chart, Figure 2-3-2D in 8900.1 ( Volume 2, Chapter 3, Section 2) provides an overview of the certification/application process. Simultaneous use of the flow chart and narrative discussion will assist you and the inspector in understanding the certification process. The chart is particularly useful in determining whether the “Schedule of Events” is reasonable in terms of sequence, timeliness, and inspector resource availability. It also provides a perspective on how a particular event affects other events and is an important reference for planning various activities during the certification/application process.

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