Certification Reform Efforts

The FAA has significantly enhanced its certification process and safety-oversight during the last two years. The agency is: 

  • Delegating less responsibility to manufacturers and increasing oversight when delegation is deemed appropriate.
  • Conducting detailed reviews of how aircraft systems work and interact with one another.
  • Ensuring that a variety of piloting skills are considered when determining training requirements. 
  • Expanding the use of independent groups of safety experts for certification projects.
  • Encouraging the reporting of safety concerns and the sharing of information by all parties.

Delegating Less and Increasing Oversight 

Boeing Safety Culture Review
The FAA in January 2023 appointed 24 experts to review Boeing’s safety management processes and how they affect 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.

Representatives from NASA, the 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.

Preventing Undue Pressure on Manufacturer Employees
In September 2022, the FAA strengthened its oversight of aviation manufacturers authorized as Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) holders by protecting aviation industry employees who perform FAA functions from interference by employers. 
The agency issued final policy that requires ODA holders to monitor for, 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.

In October 2021, the FAA issued two memos to reform the delegated authority program.  

  • One memo directed FAA Organization Management Teams for Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and General Electric to assign FAA aviation safety personnel with appropriate expertise within 60 days to serve as advisors to the oversight offices for each company.
  • The other memo required that FAA employees review for approval or rejection all new unit member selections at Type Certificate ODA Holders. 

The agency has also installed permanent staff for a new FAA office overseeing the ODA process. The office and staff are a key part of the FAA’s ability to provide comprehensive oversight of manufacturers and their products. The office enables the FAA to more quickly identify and address areas of concern to ensure that safety does not take a back seat to business objectives. 

Strengthening Aircraft Certification

Improving Design Change Reviews
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took two additional steps to improve aircraft certification safety. The steps address requirements in Section 105 of the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act.

The FAA:

  • Adopted a new policy requiring design changes to be evaluated as “major” if they would have an appreciable effect on an airworthiness characteristic of a transport-category airplane.
  • Provided additional guidance to manufacturers on how to identify safety-critical information in their certification applications. 

The latest steps build on extensive work the FAA has undertaken in recent years to improve our certification and safety-oversight processes. 

Standardizing System Safety Assessments 
The FAA proposed a rule to update the criteria for conducting safety assessments to reduce the likelihood of potentially catastrophic risks due to undetected failures. Revising safety-assessment regulations would eliminate ambiguity in, and provide consistency between, the safety assessments that applicants must conduct for different types of airplane systems.
The proposed rule also would address requirements in the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act of 2018, as well as recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and others.

Modern aircraft systems such as avionics and fly-by-wire systems are much more integrated than they were when the FAA established the current safety criteria and system-safety-assessment rules in 1970. The new standards proposed in this rule would be consistent for all systems of the airplane, reducing the chance of a hazard falling into a gap between the different regulatory requirements for different systems. Examples include the relationship between the aircraft engines and the flight control system.

Expanding Use of Safety Expert Board
In February 2022, the FAA expanded the use of independent groups of internal and external safety experts to review certification projects such as commercial aircraft, smaller aircraft and drones. These reviews, called Technical Advisory Boards (TAB), help the FAA have a consistent and thorough approach for all aircraft certification projects and allow for an independent review of projects to highlight areas of potential risk to the project team. 

The changes meet and, in fact, exceed, requirements of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. They will also:

  • Promote establishing a TAB early in the certification process
  • Provide a framework to use TABs for additional project types beyond those specified in the Act
  • Specify different levels of TABs depending on the scope of the proposed project and an initial FAA safety risk assessment.

During a TAB review, technical specialists, who are independent of a proposed certification project they are reviewing, become familiar with the proposed design or design change, and how it will meet the FAA’s certification regulations. 

TAB members focus on a big-picture view of the proposed project. Depending on the level of review required for the proposed project, their responsibilities could include: 

  • Identifying new technologies, designs or design features that could be catastrophic if they failed
  • Determining whether FAA project specialists reviewed all major issues
  • Determining whether similar systems have caused problems on other aircraft
  • Determining whether the proper FAA offices were involved in the certification process
  • Conducting secondary design reviews and procedure and training evaluations

The FAA formed a TAB when recertifying the Boeing 737 MAX and has one in place for the certification review of the Boeing 777X. 

The new TAB approach builds on recent aircraft certification reforms. These include delegating fewer responsibilities to manufacturers and demanding more transparency from them; hiring additional personnel as we increase our research into human factors and increasing automation integrated into new or updated aircraft; and expanding our evaluation of manufacturers’ assumptions about human factors that equipment manufacturers make when performing system safety assessments, including pilot response times.

Reporting Safety Critical Information
The FAA has issued two draft policy documents to provide further guidance to aircraft manufacturers and agency personnel during the certification of large commercial airplanes. The documents address methods for clearly identifying and evaluating safety critical information that must be disclosed to the FAA by an applicant for a new or amended type certificate for a transport category airplane. The publication of these documents is an important step in fulfilling the requirements of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act.

  • Notice 8110.118 outlines FAA policy for requiring applicants to submit and disclose safety critical information to the FAA. The FAA will establish milestones throughout the certification process that will help the agency assess whether any design changes to airplane systems should be considered novel or unusual, and therefore require additional scrutiny.
  • Policy Statement PS-AIR-21-2023-01 applies to FAA staff involved in the certification of large commercial airplanes, as well as holders of Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) privileges from the FAA. The policy provides further details on how applicants may identify and disclose any changes to designs or analysis that would materially alter any previously submitted safety critical information. 

The public comment period on the documents closed on August 25, 2023

Accounting for Automation, Increasing Flying Skills

Flightpath Management 
The FAA published new guidance and recommended practices for flightpath management. Ensuring that the aircraft is on a safe and correct path is the highest priority of all pilots. 
Flightpath management is especially important in operating airplanes with highly automated systems. Even when an airplane is on autopilot, the flight crew should always be aware of the aircraft’s flightpath and be able to intervene if necessary. This Advisory Circular provides a framework for operations and training programs. It will help pilots develop and maintain manual flight operations skills and avoid becoming overly reliant on automation.

The guidance is an important step in addressing some of the system safety assessment and human factors requirements in Section 119 of the Aircraft Certification Safety and Accountability Act. It also addresses an NTSB safety recommendation

Accounting for Different Flying Experience
In late 2021, the FAA changed the Flight Standardization Board process to ensure it includes air carrier pilots of varying levels of experience for transport airplane certification projects. The FAA uses these evaluations when certifying large commercial aircraft to help determine training requirements. Section 128 of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act required the change.

Confidential Reporting of Safety Issues

Voluntary Reporting Program
The Voluntary Safety Reporting Program provides those who work in the FAA’s Aviation Safety organization the ability to report confidentially any safety concerns without fear of punitive action. Information shared and submitted via this system will be used to validate or verify an aviation safety concern, identify the root cause, and determine the appropriate corrective action. The FAA’s Aviation Safety workforce is composed of about 7,400 professionals who provide oversight of airlines, manufacturers, maintenance providers, aviation medical practitioners and flight crews.

Protecting Those Raising Safety Concerns
The newly-established Office of Investigations and Professional Responsibility will provide independent reviews and decisions on allegations of manager misconduct at the FAA. The new office fulfills a key portion of Sec. 133 of the Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act. This office's work helps protect whistleblowers and others raising safety concerns. 

Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2024