SPECIAL REPORT. With the G.A. fleet getting older and manufacturer R&D nearly at a standstill, we depend on STCs and Field Approvals to update our aircraft with new technology. But, in the wake of recent FAA budget cutbacks and policy changes, it's starting to look as if these critical mechanisms don't work anymore. That's what happened to Bill Bainbridge (B&C Specialty Products), Bill Barton (Monarch Air Development), and other would-be innovators who are finding themselves stonewalled (or worse) by FAA field offices.
March 16, 1998
|About Doug Ritter (Author of AVweb's Response) ...
Doug Ritter is former
News Editor of AVweb and now contributes on special projects. An experienced
and respected aviation journalist, Doug is a contributing editor to
Aviation Consumer and
Safety and a former contributing editor to Flight Training. He also writes
for CODE ONE and AOPA Pilot, as well as other aviation publications.
best known for his insightful product evaluation and comparison articles, his
interpretation and explanation of complex technical and engineering concerns
related to aircraft systems and products, and his in-depth investigation of
aviation products, flight safety, and human factors issues. He is a leading
expert in the area of aviation survival and a working member of the SAE
Aerospace Council S-9 Cabin Safety Provisions Committee and S9-GA General
Doug is also the publisher and editor of Equipped
to Survive, a web site devoted to survival equipment and techniques.
Braly's article is followed by AVweb's own comments
(by Doug Ritter).
"I'm from the FAA and I'm here to help you." When most of us hear this
phrase, we think of some poor pilot about to be given a lesson in bureaucratic
arbitrariness courtesy of the FAA. Unfortunately, it's not only pilots who must deal with
a sometimes quixotic FAA. So do A&Ps, manufacturers and just about everyone who has
anything to do with aviation. There are times when it seems that it's the good guys that
are singled out for persecution.
Bill Bainbridge, owner of B&C Specialty Products is an
example of one such individual whose situation remains unresolved. His story came to the
attention of the general aviation community during the "Meet The Administrator"
session at Oshkosh, last August. Bainbridge confronted outgoing (acting) FAA Administrator
Barry Valentine with the incongruous tale of the FAA's enforcement action against him
seeking a two thousand dollar fine for shipping one alternator and one voltage regulator
to Alaska, for installation under a Form 337 Field Approval in a Piper Super Cub. This,
after 60 such installations had been previously supplied and ultimately approved in the
A recent interview with Bainbridge, of Newton, Kansas, reveals no progress in bringing
this dispute to an end, despite having brought the bizarre nature of this enforcement
action to the attention of the FAA at the highest levels, in the most public way, at
Oshkosh. Four months later the dispute remains unresolved, in spite of multiple
representations by various officials at the FAA that it would be dealt with expeditiously.
Bainbridge is responsible for developing a line of innovative,
state of the art, and widely respected aircraft electrical components and systems for both
experimental and certified aircraft. These include B&C's popular lightweight starters
for Lycoming engines, high energy, low-maintenance gas recombinant batteries, and
recently, a 20 amp alternator based upon a widely used reliable Japanese automotive
alternator, carefully adapted for aircraft use.
A popular figure year after year at his booth at Oshkosh, Bainbridge is almost always
found dispensing experience and advice on all matters electrical to legions of
homebuilders and certified aircraft owners, alike. Sadly, his ongoing experience with the
FAA has soured him to such an extent that those flying certified aircraft may soon have to
forego his quality products.
"I am seriously considering dropping all of my STCs and PMA'd parts, and just
dealing with the homebuilt community," remarked Bainbridge. This statement, by one of
general aviation's widely regarded "good guys," is an indication of the depth of
the crisis now threatening the ability of general aviation to maintain and upgrade its
fleet of aging aircraft.
The FAA has taken the position that sending along the sample Form 337 is evidence that
Bainbridge intended the non-PMA'd parts to be installed on "certified" aircraft,
in violation of FAR 21.303(a). That provision reads:
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may produce a
modification or replacement part for sale for installation on a type certificated product
unless it is produced pursuant to a Parts Manufacturer Approval issued under this subpart.
(b) This section does not apply to the following:
(1) Parts produced under a type or production certificate.
(2) Parts produced by an owner or operator for maintaining or altering his own
(3) Parts produced under an FAA Technical Standards Order.
(4) Standard parts (such as bolts and nuts) conforming to established industry or
On its face, section 303(a) is violated when anyone (other than the original airframe
manufacturer) ships any part for installation on a certified aircraft, unless it is a
TSO'd or PMA'd part, or a nut or a bolt or similar standard industry part. It is easy to
see how the FAA might well interpret the shipment of B&C's alternator, along with a
copy of a previously approved Form 337, to fall within the scope of the forbidden parts
shipments described in section 303(a).
However, that is not the end of it. According to Bainbridge the FAA said, early on,
that it would drop the case if he would agree to just quit furnishing the Form 337s. He
refused, explaining, "they are public documents. Anyone can get them from the files
in Oklahoma City. How can they take away my free speech rights? Someone has to stand up
and see this issue through." Bainbridge also points out that there is a web site that
lists many examples of Form 337s that have been approved and more are being added to the
Bainbridge was astonished to receive the letter from the FAA
proposing a fine of $1,000 each, for shipping the alternator and the voltage regulator to
a customer in Alaska. Bainbridge notes that he is very careful to notify his customers
that these parts are not STC'd and not PMA'd and adds that he has lost plenty of sales as
a result. B&C makes it clear that the customer will have to obtain approval of the
installation themselves. As a courtesy, if the customer inquires as to what would be
involved in getting a field approval, Bainbridge sends along a packet that includes copies
of previously approved Form 337s which had been used in Alaska and elsewhere on some 60
different installations of the B&C alternator. An A&P can use this as a guide to
both safely install the alternator and for filling out their own Form 337, after assuring
all is OK with their local FAA inspector.
While, technically, a previously approved Form 337 does not authorize or require a FSDO
inspector to approve a subsequent similar installation, most inspectors, as a rule, have
historically looked at such approvals as at least providing them with a "comfort
zone" with regards to the installation. Recommended procedure has always been to get
together with the inspector before commencing any sort of field approval and clearly
defining what the inspector wants and expects in terms of both the installation itself and
the supporting data package, drawings, etc. Depending upon the inspector and the matter in
question, this can be little more than notes on the Form 337 to drawings and flight test
In the case in question, the Super Cub owner says he received
prior approval from the Anchorage FSDO via phone before ordering the alternator. The FAA
later denied they had done so and subsequently the FSDO inspector, Walter Zackowitz,
refused to sign off on the Form 337 and insisted that a one-time STC, an involved,
expensive and time consuming process, was the only acceptable solution. There then ensued
a six month fight between the owner and the FAA, eventually culminating, only after the
intervention of Ted Stevens, U.S. Senator from Alaska, with the approval of the Form 337
by a different inspector from the same FSDO. Unfortunately, in the meantime a complaint
had been filed against Bainbridge accusing him of selling "suspected unapproved
parts." The rest, as they say, is history.
The FAA's position appears to be a lot more concerned with the "appearance"
of the matter, than with its substance. After all, the FAA's own FSDO inspectors have
already approved dozens of these identical alternator installations under the Field
Approval process using the a Form 337. In fact, the precise alternator and regulator that
gave rise to the present enforcement action has also been "approved" by the that
same Anchorage FSDO on numerous occasions.
Bainbridge explains he is not trying to be confrontational about
the matter. "If I tell the customer that I can't sell this alternator for use on a
certified aircraft, but only to homebuilders, the customer will simply hang up and call
back an hour later and order the same alternator for some fictional 14 volt homebuilt they
don't have in their garage. What good does that do? Is that really in the best interest of
Approximately two months ago, Bainbridge says he was told by the FAA's Bill O'Brien, in
Washington, "You have done nothing wrong. The FAA owes you a letter of apology. We
should have this resolved by Wednesday." Since then, O'Brien's report on the Alaskan
alternator dispute remains stalled somewhere on some unidentified bureaucrat's desk in
Washington. Bainbridge says he doesn't know what, exactly, is in the report, nor does he
have any idea of when, or even if, it will ever see the light of day.
Not An Isolated Example
According to numerous sources in the general aviation maintenance and parts business,
the B&C saga is not an isolated example of the problems they experience dealing with
the FAA. As general aviation pilots attempt to maintain their aging fleet of aircraft and
try to upgrade the systems and components to take advantage of continuing advances in
technology, they are dependent upon the FAA to facilitate these moves. However, in recent
months, a window has opened onto the ever expanding difficulties that are being faced by
the businesses that must deal with the FAA aircraft certification offices on a daily basis
in their attempts to produce parts, obtain Supplemental Type Certificates and Part
Manufacturing Authority, and secure field approvals.
One such business is Monarch Air and Development, Inc. Owner Bill Barton has been
developing and certifying aftermarket parts for Cessna aircraft for many years. He is
probably best known for his highly rated fuel tanks and caps which provide a significant
additional margin of safety over OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts. Recently,
Barton established a new
web site describing some of the many frustrations he has encountered dealing with the
FAA, inviting others in the industry to post their own experiences with the FAA STC and
"let-it-all-hang-out" web site is complete with a lengthy letter from the
manager of the Special Certification Branch of the Seattle Aircraft Certification Office.
This July 1996 letter is
addressed to "To all Domestic Type and Supplemental Certificate Holders under the
cognizance of the Special Certification Branch." The distribution list at the end of
the letter includes over 50 widely recognized companies who manufacture parts for general
aviation aircraft that are located in the jurisdiction of the Seattle ACO.
The bottom line of the letter is that the Seattle Aircraft Certification Office is no
longer able to review and act upon any of the projects submitted by anyone in the Seattle
area in a timely manner. The fifty different businesses were told to expect it to take
over four months before any FAA project engineer would even read their project proposals
after they were submitted to the FAA.
The letter begins with the following ominous message for the businesses that depend
upon the FAA for their very existence, and the aircraft owners and pilots who depend upon
them for maintaining and improving the safety and reliability of their aircraft:
"The FAA, like you in industry, currently faces increasing pressure to do more
with less. Many new FAA programs such as the Aircraft Certification Service Evaluation
Program (ACSEP), Suspect Unapproved Parts (SUPS), Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee
(ARAC), designee oversight, etc., have been implemented with no corresponding increase in
FAA resources. The FAA budget, as with other government agencies, is being cut in many
areas and in others, not growing commensurate with the demand. Consequently, our office is
not staffed to address all of the FAA and your companies' programs concurrently and must,
therefore, now face some tough choices on work program priorities."
The letter elaborates,
"All Supplemental Type Certificates (STC) and design approvals will be delayed
when this office is involved in a significant continued airworthiness project....
... For all STC and design approval projects, a minimum of four months should be
expected before the project will be reviewed by the assigned project engineer.... Projects
submitted without DER support will receive the lowest priority."
Of particular significance, the letter states,
"Onetime STC's and coordinated field approvals will be discouraged by this
office. These type of projects will have the lowest priority."
The letter then makes it clear that outsiders need not apply.
"OutofRegion projects including projects supported by DER's reporting to
this office will not be accepted. Projects submitted by Canadian companies without
facilities in our geographic region will not be accepted."
As you might expect, this official FAA bombshell stirred up considerable concern among
the affected business entities. Ultimately, a confrontation occurred in a meeting held on
August 13, 1997. As a direct result of that meeting , the FAA issued another letter
promising to remedy problems resulting from the long delays in getting an initial review
of projects and to eliminate "retaliation" by project engineers when applicants
seek review of often unreasonable low level decisions to higher management levels within
the Special Certification Office.
When we spoke with Barton of Monarch Air this past week, he stated that there has been
some improvement in the situation, but that the system "is still, basically,
Among the matters which he cites as needing immediate major overhaul is the practice of
the FAA in requiring extensive (and therefore, expensive) DER (Designated Engineering
Representative) participation in projects, but failing to actually delegate any of the
substantive work and approvals to the DERs. Further, Barton notes that there is almost
endless "second guessing" by the FAA project engineers of those few DER
delegations that actually are permitted.
Barton readily rattles off a long list of "horror stories" about unfounded
delays (two years or more) in routine STC projects, including strongly suspected, but
admittedly unprovable, interference in some of his projects by the original airframe
manufacturer. This is hardly the first time this allegation has been made, and in at least
one instance involving Mooney Aircraft and an STC held by Rocket Engineering, this
interference was substantiated in articles appearing in The Aviation Consumer.
At one point, according to Barton, one project was being repeatedly held up because the
materials specified in the product design included routine "industrial
disclaimers" on the material documents. Apparently, these routine disclaimers were
causing someone in the Special Certification Office some heart burn. In the end, it took
Barton demanding that the FAA shut down Boeing for using materials with the same
disclaimers before he was able to move the project off of dead center.
Not Just The Pacific Northwest
These problems are not confined to the Pacific Northwest. AVweb has spoken with
numerous other businesses that routinely develop replacement parts or new products for use
in general aviation aircraft Without exception, they all have experienced the same or
similar kinds of delays documented in the Seattle Special Certification Office letter.
These experiences cover essentially all of the FAA regions across the United States.
The complaints fall into a now familiar pattern:
The FAA is unable to process projects and have them reviewed by appropriately trained
project engineers on a timely basis. There is virtually no concern within the FAA, that to
the affected businesses, time is money and raising costs can affect the affordability,
even the viability of products.
"I can't be concerned about the cost, my only concern is safety." This refrain
is one of the most frustrating excuses that users hear by which FAA employees avoid
serious discussions of alternative means and methods of "showing compliance"
with the FARs by more cost effective methods. This despite the fact that in many instances
the STC's being sought are for parts or improvements that would raise the level of safety
and raising costs may preclude their certification.
The FAA now requires virtually every applicant for an STC to obtain expensive DER
"support", but then frequently ignores all input and advice from the FAA
approved DER and seldom lets the DER actively assist in the design and approval of the
test plans and the execution of those plans, other than to be "an observer" and
other than to "review data".
Phone calls sometimes go unreturned for days at a time, although this varies in
different regions of the country. Weeks or months may pass before FAA personnel can
arrange to be present for the FAA's required tests. Even when arrangements are made,
postponements can occur and result in additional weeks or months of delay
Even when the development and FAA monitored testing is finally completed, weeks,
sometimes months, may pass before required paperwork is completed and made available,
allowing products to be shipped to customers.
All but a very few (Bainbridge and Barton, being exceptions) are totally convinced that
if their name is revealed in any public forum, then they will be the object of retaliation
by the bureaucrats that they must deal with in the FAA. Thus inhibited, much of the FAA's
objectionable behavior goes unreported for fear of such retribution. Retribution that in
part has been admitted to by the FAA in the Seattle ACO's letter.
One holder of multiple STCs was forced to wait over five months for the FAA to schedule
a one hour PMA inspection necessary in order that the company could begin shipping long
previously STC'd parts. During this interval, it was perfectly legal and proper for the
company to install the same parts at their facility as part of another STC, they just
couldn't break out that portion of the kit and ship them without the PMA, which took five
months just to schedule. In fact, the FAA employee, was finally so frustrated, that he
took off one weekend and ended up making the inspection on a Saturday on his own time.
In another case, a company waited nearly three months for an FAA flight test pilot to
be available to schedule a flight.
Often the FAA requires multiple people, such as a test pilot, a project engineer, and a
MIDO (Manufacturing Inspection District Office) inspector to be present to
"witness" even the most simple of tests. These people all have more on their
schedule than they can gracefully handle. Thus, finding a date, when all three of these
"essential" people can all travel to the company facilities to witness a test,
can take weeks or months. If the weather goes bad, on the day of the scheduled test, it
can take another month or more to find a single date when all three different FAA
employees have an opening on their schedules.
A significant part of the problem appears to be that the MIDO offices are unwilling to
let the Aircraft Certification Office employees do a "conformity" inspection
(confirming that parts produced match the engineering drawings and specifications), and
the ACOs do not trust the MIDO inspectors to witness even the most basic ground or flight
tests to collect routine data.
Companies have offered to try to get around these scheduling and time consuming
bottlenecks by video taping the entire test process and having DERs, a certified
representative of the FAA, present to be a witness. So far, few of these attempts at
reducing costs and time consuming FAA involvement have met with approval, despite the
FAA's pronounced lack of internal resources.
In most instances, those contacted by AVweb, who have substantial experience
with the FAA professionals involved with STCs and the PMA process, agree that with some
notable exceptions, the individual FAA employees are generally all "good"
people. There are the usual bureaucratic exceptions to this rule, but the real problem
appears to be FAA employees that are caught up in trying to administer an unworkable and
It is Barton's belief that the only way to force the FAA to reform the system is to get
Congressional hearings and he is focused upon that objective. In describing his efforts
and desires, he makes reference to the recent IRS hearings, with various witnesses
testifying behind screens to protect them from retaliation.
Over the last month, a discussion involving these issues has
taken place on CompuServe's Aviation Special Interest Group (AVSIG) forum. During the
course of that discussion, the widely respected former FAA Associate Administrator for
Regulation and Certification, Tony Broderick, acknowledged that the STC system was in
serious need of improvement, if not outright overhaul. He also expressed support for the
greatly increased use of DERs, even going so far as to support the delegation to
appropriate DERs of entire STC projects. That simple change would make a world of
From the point of view of the pilots and owners of typical general aviation aircraft,
the high price and slow development of improved replacement parts and modifications for
their aging aircraft is seriously aggravated by the FAA's current passionate pursuit of
so-called "unapproved parts" and "suspected unapproved parts" (how
that for fedspeak?), as exemplified by the current enforcement action against Bainbridge
over B&C's highly regarded standby alternator.
The FAA's current fascination with unapproved parts is primarily
a result of threats from the former DOT Inspector General, Mary Schiavo, to pursue FAA
officials for failing to take action on the "problem," according to her, of
unapproved parts, concerns later taken up by a Congress eager to latch onto anything that
makes it look like it cares.
This pursuit of "unapproved parts" is widely regarded by the general aviation
community as a totally misplaced application of the FAA's dwindling resources. For years,
it has been a common practice for mechanics to make modifications to general aviation
aircraft and to use non-PMA'd and non-TSO'd parts to make a variety of improvements in
general aviation aircraft. One individual we know that is deeply involved with a number of
projects requiring STCs, observed that, "virtually every instrument panel of every
aircraft built in the 1960s and 1970s sports at least one example of such an
The FAA's argument, expressed during the course of the AVSIG discussions (in the case
of the B&C alternator, for example) is that it is impossible for any mechanic or
owner in the field to know what the quality of the alternator really is, since it was not
produced under an approved aircraft quality assurance system. The FAA's Holy Grail in this
regard is something it calls "approved data". No approved data, no
certification, no PMA, no STC, no TSO and apparently, no Form 337 approval.
From the perspective of general aviation, the question raised by those in the field is
that if there is no data to support a finding of any safety issue with so called
unapproved parts, as the lack of accidents apparently shows, then why change past
practices and start enforcing new rules that restrict or eliminate such practices?
Can A&Ps Be Trusted?
Most general aviation owners and pilots are perfectly content to let their mechanics
evaluate various products produced for their aircraft and to install and test them as
appropriate. Obviously, this requires an exercise of judgment on the part of both
mechanics and owners. From the owner and mechanic's point of view, this judgment call
almost always includes consideration of the alternative to the proposed installation, most
often an OEM part with proven drawbacks, many impacting safety of flight. The FAA position
has evolved to the point where it totally rejects the suggestion that any mechanic be
allowed to "approve" any modification and installation of almost any part on the
aircraft based upon a simple judgment call backed by considerable experience, often far
greater than that of the FAA inspector overseeing the mechanic.
Any discussion of this subject, quickly reduces itself to the absurd. What about, for
example, the installation of a coffee cup holder, commonly available in a camper supply
store? In one common modification, these are installed in place of the cigarette ashtrays
on Bonanzas. Do these parts require an STC, PMA or TSO? The explicit language of FAR
21.303(a) would authorize the FAA to prosecute your local camper supply store for selling
you a simple cup holder, if you made the mistake of telling them in advance, that it was
going to be installed on your certified airplane.
Bainbridge responds that his alternator was sold with the express understanding by the
owner that it could not legally be installed on his aircraft without a formal Form 337
field approval. He maintains that such sales are either "legal" in and of
themselves or they have been treated as legal for so many decades, that it is
fundamentally unfair of the FAA to start to punish people and businesses for such conduct.
It's hard to find anyone outside the FAA that argues with that position.
Certainly, there is little question about the quality of the alternator in question,
except perhaps in the mind of the FAA. This exact same alternator is currently used by
Mooney as part of its optional de-icing package for the Mooney Ovation. In short, it is an
already approved and certified part, in another application. The difference is that in
this instance, being an airframe manufacturer, the FAA accepts Mooney's judgment that the
alternator is acceptable. (The core of the alternator is made in Japan, in an automotive
assembly facility. There is no FAA monitoring of that production facility and no special
"aircraft quality assurance" at the point of original manufacturing of the core
components in the alternator. Nor is there any FAA monitoring of the modifications by
B&C. Presumably, Mooney simply inspects the modified alternator, as it comes from B&C, in the same manner as all airframers inspect numerous parts used in their
aircraft that are not PMA'd or TSO'd.)
Building For Two Years
There have been warning signs of this impending problem, but by and large the general
aviation community has not been paying attention. Two years ago, in February of 1995, the
FAA formally announced a "Notice Of Policy On Enforcement." It included a
summary which stated, "This is a notice of the FAA's policy to enforce full
compliance with certain regulations on producing modifications or replacement parts for
sale for installation on type certificated products."
When pushed on the subject, the FAA retreats behind claims that its "hands are
tied" by the language of FAR 21.303(a). But, the truth of the matter is that the
Administrator only needs to keep on reading down a few lines in her own regulations to
find the solution. FAR 21.305, "Approval of materials, parts, process, and
appliances," contains the following language (excerpted):
"Whenever a material, part, process, or appliance is required to be approved
under this chapter, it may be approved -
(a) Under a Parts Manufacturer Approval issued
(b) Under a Technical Standard Order issued by the Administrator...;
(c) In conjunction with type
certification procedures for a product; or
(d) In any other manner approved by
It is difficult to argue, based on this plain language, that the FAA doesn't have
regulatory authority that allows the Administrator to continue to approve the long
standing field approval process whereby over 60 of Bainbridge's alternators have been
safely installed under a Form 337 on aircraft in Alaska. Bainbridge believes that the
Administrator had, for decades, accepted the Form 337 field approval process as just such
an alternative mechanism described in FAR 21.305(d) to show "approval" of his
parts, not to speak of the thousands of parts built and installed by others.
There is one thing everyone involved in these issues agrees about. Congress has not
given the FAA the resources to timely process and approve the current applications for
STC'd products and modifications or field approvals. On the other hand, rather than using
the resources it does have to find ways and means to open up and expedite the
certification process, all the users of the STC system see is ever more difficult
certification hurdles and, more recently, drastic enforcement actions against anyone who
attempt to solve real world problems in a rational, safe manner.
The Fix Is Obvious
Almost universally, those who rely upon the STC process agree that when all of the
alternatives are carefully considered, there is really only one alternative that is
practical (given federal budget constraints) and that can realistically begin to solve the
problem for general aviation. That solution is for the FAA to start delegating, on a
wholesale basis, the complete STC process to their duly appointed DERs. The FAA could then
use its limited resources to manage and supervise the DERs and quit trying to micro-manage
the projects. To make this work, the FAA would have to substantially increase the number
of DERs that it does appoint, but there is no shortage of experienced engineers who
understand what is required by the FAA.
For the owner or pilot, it all seems so simple. Is it safer for the bush pilot in
Alaska to continue to fly with a 30 year old generator that frequently fails, and may have
been overhauled a dozen times with so-called unapproved parts, or is it safer to install a
modern, state-of-the-art alternator sold by B&C? Seems like a no-brainer to us.
Show Me the Data ...
For as long as we've been writing about aviation I've been hearing horror stories from
those who must deal with the FAA to gain STCs, PMAs and field approvals. With rare
exception, those complaining have declined to be identified for an article or to tell
their stories publicly for fear of retribution. It may have been bad, but it was better
than being put out of business. It simply became a cost of doing business, albeit a
generally needless cost, to be passed on to the customer. Unfortunately, on more than a
few occasions it has resulted in ideas being stillborn, in better and safer products never
coming to market or making it into the airplanes we all fly.
Over the years they found ways around some of the most onerous obstacles, but it was
rarely a pleasant experience for most. Even those who have been doing it for years and
have sterling reputations find that every new application and new FAA hire brings with it
new nightmares. In recent years it has gotten worse. One must ask, why?
Disregarding that until recently the FAA had a dual mandate that included promotion of
aviation, the avowed bottom line purpose of the FAA has always been to promote safety.
While there are many ways to achieve that end, relying upon experience and good data to
make safety of flight decisions isn't a bad way to start. Former FAA Associate
Administrator of Regulation and Certification, Tony Broderick, used to say "show me
the data" when pressed on most safety issues. Fair enough, I can live with that
attitude. You may still argue over data, but it's a lot better than letting politics or
self-serving bureaucrats drive rule making.
So, where's the data that shows that the field approval system is unsafe? Where's the
data that shows that so-called unapproved parts are causing serious accidents? Where's the
data that says that field approvals using non PMA'd or TSO'd parts are killing pilots?
Where's the data that shows that a modern, well designed and built alternator, installed
in accordance with generally accepted engineering principles by appropriately trained and
certified mechanics is unsafe? While we're asking, where's the data that suggests that
it's a bad idea to have DERs with years more expertise and experience than the FAA's
project engineers approve data for most relatively simple STCs. If you can't show me that
data, I'll understand, because there isn't any.
If It Ain't Broke...
This, then is the crux of the problem. A system that worked for years has degenerated
to the point of uselessness with no rational basis for doing so. At a time when the FAA
has less and less resources to work with and ever more to do with those limited resources,
why are they looking for ways to make the system even less productive.
There is no question that FAR 21.305 provides all the authority
the FAA needs to solve these problems. What is lacking is any sense of urgency or need
from FAA leadership. Meanwhile, while the FAA fiddle-farts around, general aviation is
taking it on the chin. Good ides that make flying safer and more affordable are
languishing, many not even being pursued because of the current regulatory environment.
Those that make it through the process cost far more than they ought to. It's time that
AOPA, EAA, NATA and the other alphabet organizations made solving this problem a priority.
The bottom line to finding a solution is recognizing that, ultimately, the FAA simply
does not have the resources to do its job. The obvious solution to that bottleneck is to
create alternative means of compliance that are timely and economical and still provide a
reasonable degree of safety and security.
Why Make A Federal Case Of This...
I'd hate to think it is necessary to hold congressional hearings with secret witnesses
and expose the FAA to even greater public ridicule. With all the complaints from the FAA
about time wasted dealing with Congressional mandates and investigations, you would think
they'd be happy to try and solve problems before they reach that point. Yet, there's no
evidence that FAA management gives a hoot about the problem or that it is prepared to move
to find solutions in a timely manner.
A number of people involved in the process have volunteered to help draft workable
rules that serve both the interests of safety and the needs of general aviation, our own
George Braly among them. To date, the FAA has shown little interest in their help. When
you peel away the bureaucratic veneer, these problems are little different than those
faced by businesses all over the world who have had to deal with downsizing and reduced
budgets. The solutions have been found by thinking outside the box, not by cutting off
their nose to spite their face.
For the sake of all of us in general aviation, here's hoping someone, somehow can get
the FAA leadership to get off its duff on this and start working towards a solution. Seems
to us the answer is simple: outsourcing! It may be something of a buzzword these
days, but it's the only practical answer. The FAA's limited resources require that it quit
trying to micro-manage routine certification projects. Instead, it should let the DERs, A
&Ps, IAs and perhaps some new type designees do the routine modification and
certification work. Then, the FAA can use what resources it does have to monitor these
designees and others who can get the word done on a timely and cost effective basis.
Former Associate Administrator Tony Broderick is probably in a
better position than anyone to know, since all the FSDOs, ACOs and MIDOs used to report to
him. No longer restrained by FAA chains, Broderick recently commented on the CompuServe
"The FAA simply is not doing its job as the industry needs it done in this
area, and I see no technical reason why they can't do more delegation. .. The 'legality'
of the [B&C] alternator approvals is one which I don't think will be questioned,
though 'Mikey likes it' is not a proper way to do business."
Concerning the B&C fiasco, the Administrator needs to re-read FAR 21.305, and put
the Form 337 Field Approval process back on the same footing it has occupied for the last
All this needs to happen, and happen soon, before the situation degenerates any