Congress Passes “Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act”

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Part of the massive omnibus spending bill and COVID-19 emergency relief package that was pushed through the U.S. Senate Monday night includes, as expected, a compromise version of the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act. The act calls on the FAA to revise the organization delegation authorization (ODA) process, with an emphasis on oversight and accountability, change the way it reviews design changes, and, specifically, review the ODA program for Boeing. The final version of the act leaves the ODA concept in place; some felt that the FAA would be forced to scrap or radically overhaul the way it delegates certification processes. 

According to Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio, “Our bipartisan—and now bicameral deal—is the result of nearly two years of intense investigation in my Committee, multiple public hearings on both sides of the Capitol, and countless conversations with the families of the victims and the aviation community about how best to address the failings that led to the development of a fatally-flawed aircraft and an FAA certification process that ultimately allowed [the Boeing 737 MAX] into service. I’m immensely grateful to my Congressional partners in this effort, especially Aviation Subcommittee Chair Rick Larsen, who have all been steadfast in our mission to make sure the story of the MAX is never repeated.”

“This bicameral agreement will not only strengthen our country’s aviation certification process, it will enable continued American competitiveness in the aerospace industry and ensure the United States remains the gold standard in aviation safety,” Ranking Member Sam Graves said.

GAMA’s CEO Pete Bunce issued this statement after the bill passed. “Many of the provisions included in the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act, bolster efforts long championed by GAMA. For the last several years, we have been working with the FAA and the international aviation community to implement safety management systems for manufacturers, which we were pleased to see included in the bill. The compromise bill also addresses other important issues identified by Congress and various technical and expert groups that have reviewed the MAX and related processes and are generally consistent with GAMA’s certification and safety priorities. These include increasing resources for the FAA safety workforce and oversight activities, improving safety decision-making for new technologies, and facilitating the FAA’s international engagement in safety harmonization and improvements. GAMA will continue its ongoing work with the FAA and other aviation regulators to ensure this legislation improves the safety and resiliency of the aviation system through successful implementation of safety management systems, needed investments and changes in safety oversight, and strong international engagement on key safety training and harmonization efforts.”

In summarizing the act, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure said the legislation:

  • Provides direct FAA approval of organization delegation authorization (ODA) unit members—employees at aircraft manufacturers who approve findings of compliance with design requirements on the FAA’s behalf;
  • Requires the appointment of FAA safety advisors to strengthen FAA oversight of and communication with ODA unit members throughout the certification process;
  • Requires aviation manufacturers to adopt safety management systems;
  • Requires comprehensive safety analysis of aircraft design changes;
  • Orders an independent review of Boeing’s ODA, safety culture, and capability to perform FAA-delegated functions;
  • Establishes interdisciplinary project teams, consisting of experts from the FAA and other federal agencies, to aid the FAA in its review of certification submissions related to new technology or novel design;
  • Authorizes civil penalties against aviation manufacturer supervisors who interfere with or place undue pressure on ODA unit members;
  • Ensures that manufacturers will complete system safety assessments on all new and derivative aircraft designs for flight control systems that consider realistic pilot responses to flight deck alerts;
  • Provides new confidential reporting channels at the FAA and whistleblower protections for manufacturer employees;
  • Authorizes more than $75 million over three years for the FAA to recruit and retain engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists, software and cybersecurity experts, and other qualified technical experts;
  • Establishes new requirements on the disclosure of safety-critical systems;
  • Strengthens international aviation safety and pilot training standards by authorizing additional funding for bilateral and multilateral engagement and assistance;
  • Creates a new Air Grant fellowship program to increase technical aviation knowledge in Congress and at the FAA and other Federal agencies;
  • Requires the FAA to review pilot training, including manual flying skills training, and the assumptions relied upon by the FAA and manufacturers when designing an airplane, and to work with the international community to improve pilot training globally; and
  • Authorizes new funding for the FAA to develop or expand a FAA Center of Excellence to address flight automation and pilot response.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. In general the ODA works about as well as it can… as long as there is financial gain/loss dependent solely on the ODA decision making process there will always be unwanted pressure from the greater organization. Like the tide it will eventually wear down every break water systems we build.

    There are independent delegates (DER) that really should have their power reigned in but that’s not part of this bill.

  2. Has anybody else noticed the increased government regulation in this act? Read the list of “bullet points”–they all start with “Requires”–“Provides”–“Establishes”–“Authorizes”–“Creates”–and “Strengthens.” This is simply a grab for MORE POWER by government–and when it comes to Big Government, FAA is right out front!

    If simple government control actually WORKED, they could simply pass a law that says “Thou Shalt Not Crash.” I have a 60 year-old collection of various aviation magazines–government over-regulation has been a recurring theme all that time. The best quote came from a Brit–“OUR government considers it a risk and a failure every time an aerocraft takes to the air!”

    Let’s face it–the FAA is NOT the experts the media (and therefore the public) make them out to be. Put it this way, if you–as a pilot, mechanic, or aircraft owner–had a question, would YOU take it to the FAA? The FAA is a bureaucracy and administrative arm–nothing more.

    One could make the case that IT WAS THE FAA that was a big factor in the Boeing crashes, by being complicit with the demand for “common type certificates” for the Max–which required Boeing to use the trim adjust system to meet existing FAA rules. The FAA signed off on that system–I don’t think Boeing would have gone through the time and expense of installing it except for the FAA dictum.

    This list of ADDITIONAL powers is a direct result of the Boeing crashes–yet it was the FAA that signed off on all of those issues. They already had the powers of certification and oversight listed in this “new law”–but failed to exercise them. The predictable reaction from the Washington Swamp? “LET’S PASS ANOTHER LAW!”

    It isn’t just airliners that have fallen to the big bureaucracy of the FAA–enabled by those “aviation experts”–the U.S. CONGRESS. (sarcasm) FAA “protection” has killed the commuter airliner business in the U.S.–and General Aviation manufacturing is on its deathbed. The U.S. USED to be the “aviation capital of the world”–consider Diamond Aircraft–it was easier to certify their aircraft in Europe–have them assembled in Canada, then imported into the U.S. under “reciprocity” than for a U.S. manufacturer to build them here. Consider bizjets and turboprops–now certified and produced in France, Brazil, and the EU–instead of here. Even LOW TECH airplanes–Light Sport airplanes are primarily European (the 1320# gross weight restriction adopted by the FAA is because of the 600 KG. limitation in the EU) are primarily built in the EU (and the EU has been famous for bureaucracy for nearly 100 years!

    Is it any wonder that there are more homebuilt airplanes produced in the U.S. every year than there are factory-built–mainly because of the FAA to adopt reasonable regulations to control certification costs? THAT is something the FAA OUGHT TO CONSIDER A FAILURE–but they would likely react to that reality by subjecting homebuilts to even MORE regulation.

    • Quite frankly Jim, I read the article and I get dizzy. By the time I get to the end my head is spinning and it hurts. Nothing makes any sense. You have people running around in circles thinking they’re getting something done by running around in circles. It’s amazing to watch. I have no idea what the article is saying, or, what the passage of the Act is supposed to achieve. One by-product is for sure, the sky’s will not be any safer and it will definitely cost more to fly.