The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned that cuts to its budget could further slow down a process to lift a ban on the certification of foreign repair stations outside the USA, as the agency expects a "very very rocky road ahead" when it deals with the growing impact of the funding cuts.
The FAA was prohibited by the US Congress to approve new Part 145 foreign repair station certificate applications submitted after 3 August 2008, after the Transport Security Administration missed a second deadline to develop foreign repair security rules that were first mandated by Congress in 2003.
The final rules were finally submitted on 16 March by the Department of Homeland Security to the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which is now reviewing them.
The rules are now in the "final stages of executive clearance", says the FAA's deputy associate administrator for aviation safety John Hickey today at the MRO Americas conference in Atlanta. He cautions that this could take another month or even a year.
However, even if the rules are cleared and the ban on the FAA certifying foreign repair stations is lifted, Hickey warns that the cuts to the FAA's budget would likely result in the agency not having the resources to carry out the evaluations needed to certify these stations.
"The door might appear open, but we don't have the resources to do it... I'm not saying we won't do any, but it will be a long process before we can," says Hickey, adding that the resources-constrained environment will be the "new normal".
As part of cuts to the US federal government budget in a process called sequestration, the FAA's budget is being cut by $637 million through its current fiscal year ending 30 September. The funding cuts have resulted in the impending closure of some contract air traffic control towers and furloughs of the FAA's employees among other impacts.
The FAA had previously estimated that about 80 applications from Part 145 repair stations outside of the USA are pending approval.
Hickey warns that the agency is in "freefall" as FAA employee numbers are expected to fall. It is on a hiring freeze and will not be able to replace staff who leave. "There is a lot of uncertainty," he says.
While he emphasises that the FAA is still very much focused on safety and oversight of the air transport system, Hickey warns that more uncertainty lies ahead as the 2014 budget request for the FAA has yet to be passed by Congress and it is not known yet how the FAA's staffing levels will be affected.
The budget was unveiled on 10 April by US President Barack Obama. In the budget request, a total of $76.6 billion is allocated to the Department of Transportation.
"We don't know what they [Congress] is going to do. There is great uncertainty," Hickey tells Flightglobal.
As the FAA grapples with limited resources, it is likely to delegate more work to other parties such as manufacturers, which it is allowed to do under its organisation designation authorisation, or ODA.
"We are trying to expand delegation," says Hickey, echoing sentiments that he had voiced previously. He acknowledges that delegation to airlines and repair stations has not been as "advanced" as that with manufacturers, but urges companies in the MRO sector to consider implementing delegation. "You will have more control over your schedule," he says.