Are the STC and Field Approval Processes Broken?
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.
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 same manner.
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 product
(3) Parts produced under an FAA Technical Standards Order.
(4) Standard parts (such as bolts and nuts) conforming to established industry or U.S. specification.
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 list everyday.
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 results.
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 aviation safety?"
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 PMA process.
This "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, broken".
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 unresponsive system.
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 difference.
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 installation."
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 under 21.303;
(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 the Administrator."
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 AVSIG forum:
"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 50 years.
All this needs to happen, and happen soon, before the situation degenerates any further.