How Does the FAA Certify Aircraft?
The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Aircraft Certification Service includes more than 1,300 engineers, scientists, inspectors, test pilots and other safety professionals. They are responsible for oversight of design, production, airworthiness certification, and continued airworthiness programs for nearly all U.S. civil aviation products: large and small airplanes, rotorcraft, engines, and propellers and foreign import products. The FAA collaborates with the International Civil Aviation Organization and other civil aviation authorities to maintain and advance the safety of international air transportation.
The Certification Process
The FAA's aircraft certification processes are well established and have consistently assured safe aircraft designs. As part of any certification project, we conduct the following:
- A review of any proposed designs and the methods that will be used to show that these designs and the overall airplane complies with FAA regulations;
- Ground tests and flight tests to demonstrate that the airplane operates safely;
- An evaluation of the airplane's required maintenance and operational suitability for introduction of the airplane into service; and
- Collaboration with other civil aviation authorities on their approval of the aircraft for import.
What is an ODA?
Federal law authorizes FAA to delegate to a qualified individual or organization the ability to conduct certain activities on behalf of the agency. In recent successive Acts, Congress directed FAA to streamline certification, including increased delegation to Organization Designation Authorizations (ODAs).
The FAA has never allowed companies to police themselves or self-certify their aircraft. With strict FAA oversight, delegation extends the rigor of the FAA certification process to other recognized professionals, thereby multiplying the technical expertise focused on assuring an aircraft meets FAA regulations. The agency remains directly involved in the testing and certification of any new and novel features and technologies through the Flight Standardization Board.
ODA unit members may be authorized to issue airworthiness certificates. The work flow for issuance of these certificates must meet FAA requirements, including an inspection of the aircraft and review of the aircraft certification data.
Before issuing a standard or special airworthiness certificate, or a special flight permit, ODA unit members must inspect the aircraft, and document the results of the inspection as described in FAA Order 8130.2. Before issuing an experimental certificate or special flight permit, the ODA unit must obtain FAA written approval. Once the certificate is issued, the ODA unit must send the certification package to the FAA.
The use of delegation has been a vital part of our safety system since the 1920s, and without it, the success of our country's aviation system likely would have been stifled. Our delegation program is similar to organizational programs used in Europe and other countries, so it helps the United States maintain a level playing field with foreign competitors. Read additional information about designees and delegations.
The Boeing 737 MAX Certification
The Boeing 737-8/9 Max design had minor changes to the 737 Next Generation (NG) design. For this reason, FAA issued an Amended Type Certificate to the Max airplane, which was based on the Type Certificate of the 737NG. The FAA spent approximately five years certifying the Boeing 737 MAX. Boeing applied for certification in January 2012. The certification was completed in March 2017. Amended type certificates typically take 3-5 years to complete. By comparison, the certification of a new aircraft type can take between 5 and 9 years.
During the certification process, FAA experts including chief scientists, engineers and flight test pilots, conducted in-flight testing of the flight control system, including the MCAS.
Boeing Safety Culture
The FAA appointed 24 experts who will review Boeing’s safety management processes and how they relate to Boeing’s safety culture. The panel will convene in the coming weeks and have nine months to complete its review and issue findings and recommendations.
Individuals from NASA, FAA, labor unions, independent engineering experts, air carriers, manufacturers with delegated authority, legal experts and others make up the panel.
The review panel addresses a key requirement (Sec. 103) in the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.
In September, the FAA strengthened its oversight of aviation manufacturers that are authorized as Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) holders by taking action to protect aviation industry employees who perform FAA functions from interference by employers.
The agency issued final policy that requires ODA holders to monitor, report and investigate all allegations of interference and to report the results to the FAA. It also established a clear path for these industry employees to speak freely with FAA certification officials at any time. These employees must be trained on the new policy.