The US government has ordered an “expert review” of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) programme, while also setting aside $81 million to help the FAA hire more technical staffers.

Those provisions and others aimed at addressing aircraft certification concerns are included in the US government’s fiscal 2021 spending law, signed by president Donald Trump on 27 December.

The measures stem directly from Congressional reviews initiated in response to two Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people.

ethiopian crash debris c Mulugeta Ayene_AP_Shutter

Source: Mulugeta Ayene, AP, Shutterstock

Wreckage from the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, a Boeing 737 Max 8 that slammed into the ground after takeoff from Addis Ababa on 10 March 2019, killing all 157 people aboard.

Under the law, aircraft manufacturers must establish safety management systems (SMS) within four years. It also gives the FAA authority to approve the safety plans.

SMS, which lay out organisaton-wide safety structures, are already required for airlines.

The FAA has 30 days to create “an expert panel” charged with reviewing the safety of manufacturers’ ODA functions. Through the ODA programme, which took heat following the crashes, the FAA delegates certification work directly to manufacturers.

The ODA review must ensure that manufacturers are capable “of making reasonable and appropriate decisions regarding functions delegated” to them under the ODA process, says the law.

The panel must be composed of independent experts and representatives from NASA, the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service and Flight Standards Service, airlines and unions representing pilots and aircraft manufacturing workers.

The ODA panel must submit its findings and recommendations to the FAA within 270 days. Based on the results of that finding, the FAA may “may limit, suspend or terminate” a manufacturer’s ODA.

The law also requires the FAA to ensure its workers have the skills to “adequately understand the safety implications of, and oversee the adoption of, new or innovative technologies, materials and procedures”. It instructs the FAA to set minimum qualifications for ADO staffers and prohibits supervisors from interfering with ODA work.

“The FAA is reviewing the certification language that was included in the funding bill and will work to implement the changes as directed by Congress,” the agency says. “The FAA is committed to continuous advancement of aviation safety and improving our organisation, processes and culture.”

“We are pleased that the text appears to further support many of the agency’s ongoing efforts,” it adds.

Boeing declines to comment about the certification changes. The FAA and Boeing have insisted changes made to the Max have made it among the safest jets in the sky.


Source: FAA

FAA administrator Steve Dickson

The law will also provide the FAA $27 million annually for three years for the purpose of hiring and keeping engineers, safety inspectors and staff with experience in human factors, cybersecurity and other fields.

Aircraft manufactures are also targeted by the law. It requires they disclose to the FAA certain “safety critical information”, including details about systems that could change “the flight path or airspeed of an airplane”. Manufacturers must also disclose any handling characteristics that, without software augmentation, fail to meet FAA standards.

Additionally, the FAA will require applicants seeking amended type certificates to specifically describe changes being made. The law prohibits the FAA from issuing amended type certificates unless manufactures prove their designs are based on “realistic” pilot response times.

The 737 Max was certificated under an amended ticket, and Boeing says it is seeking an amended certificate for its 777-9. It is unclear whether the new law will impact the 777-9’s certification timeline.

The law also prohibits manufacturers from providing pilot training-related discounts to customers prior to when the FAA approves a type’s training requirements.

Such provisions link directly to the two Max crashes.

Boeing gave that jet the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System to counter its tendency to pitch nose-up under certain circumstances. The two crashes were proceeded by system failures that activated MCAS, which caused the jets to dive. Investigations concluded that various cockpit warnings may have confused the pilots. 

Reviews also revealed that Boeing landed huge Max orders on the promise that pilots would not need significant additional training to transfer to the jet from 737NGs.