Time to fix certification structure

This appeared as a Comment in the 25 March edition of Flight International

If doubt still remained, the US Federal Aviation ­Administration confirmed this week that its ­certification process for commercial aircraft in an age of a globalised and distributed supply chain is broken.

A decade ago, Boeing adapted how it designs and builds commercial aircraft to resemble the model ­Airbus has used since the early 1970s. The new system decentralises design and pushes component manufacturing to lower levels of the supply chain.

But Boeing’s supply chain management system and the FAA’s regulations have not kept up with this ­fundamental shift, as both parties chronicled in an ­admirably honest self-appraisal released last week. The report does not directly link these shortfalls to the ­ongoing mystery of what caused two batteries to overheat and emit flame or fumes on two 787s in January 2013, but it explains many of the other breakdowns that have plagued the Dreamliner since roll-out in 2007.

But it is still not clear either party has learned enough from the 787’s painful and costly lessons. The 787’s reliability remains below industry standards 2.5 years after entry into service. The FAA has acknowledged the gaps in its certification structure, but it has done nothing yet to fill them.

Timing is everything. If the industry were in a down-cycle rather than an upcycle, these illnesses could be fatal. Luckily, both sides have time to get this fixed.

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