The House bill, which passed by voice vote 17 Nov 2020, seeks to tighten FAA oversight of the aircraft certification process by overhauling an FAA process called Organization Designation Authorization, which allows manufacturers to certify parts of their own aircraft. That process has been criticized as contributing to a lax regulatory compliance environment that eroded the safety culture at the Chicago-based Boeing. It would convene an independent expert review panel that would review Boeing's ODA as well as the company's safety culture and ability to perform FAA-delegated functions and direct the FAA to conduct a review of all of its ODA holders every seven years. It also would give the FAA the ability to dismiss any person authorized to perform FAA certification tasks and would authorize $3 million a year for each fiscal year 2021 through 2023 for the FAA to ensure adequate staffing and resources to complete such reviews and approvals. The House measure would authorize $27 million per year from fiscal years 2021 through 2023 to allow the FAA to recruit and retain employees to help in the certification of aircraft, engines and other components. The bill seeks to eliminate conflicts of interest by putting "cooling-off period" restrictions on Boeing employees who go to work for the FAA or vice versa. And it would bar FAA employees from receiving a bonus or raise solely for meeting or exceeding a deadline related to the completion of a certification function.
A copy of the proposed act can be found here:
This bill addresses certain safety standards relating to the aircraft certification process.
Among other things, the bill requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to
- direct U.S. aircraft and aerospace industry manufacturers to adopt safety management systems consistent with international standards and practices;
- convene an expert panel to review organizations that design and produce transport airplanes and make recommendations for improvements;
- require manufacturers to disclose to the FAA certain safety-critical information related to an aircraft;
- conduct a comprehensive review of each manufacturing Organization Designation Authorization holder's capability to meet FAA regulations based on the holder's organizational structures, requirements applicable to officers and employees, and safety culture;
- establish an appeal process to review decisions regarding a manufacturer's compliance with applicable design regulations;
- revise and improve its process of issuing amended type certificates for modifying an aircraft;
- initiate a call to action safety review of pilot certification standards in order to bring stakeholders together to share lessons learned, best practices, and implement actions to address any safety issues identified; and
- conduct an evaluation of tools and methods that support the better integration of human factors and system safety assessments of aircraft flight deck and flight control systems into the FAA's certification process.
Progress of the act can be found here.
By comparison, the Senate bill, which the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved on 18 Nov. 2020, would also give the FAA increased authority to approve or remove Boeing employees conducting FAA certification tasks. It also would grant new whistleblower protections to employees and would require the FAA to act on the National Transportation Safety Board's recommendations for new safety standards for automation and pilot training, including how humans respond and interact with technology. The Senate bill also includes language to require the agency to create a "National Air Grant Fellowship Program,” modeled on the successful Sea Grant program, which pairs graduate students who have an interest in marine policy with fellowships in Congress and the executive branch. It also includes language aimed at ensuring that the FAA works with foreign civil aviation authorities on safety management systems as well as providing new restrictions on “changed” aeronautical products. Critics have argued that Boeing sought the easier-to-receive certification on heavily “changed” products when it should’ve sought certification for new products instead. This bill has not passed the full Senate.
Sponsor Sen Roger Wicker
The committees assigned to this bill sent it to the House or Senate as a whole for consideration on November 18, 2020.
Press Release here: Committee Advances Bipartisan Aircraft Safety and Certification Bill - U.S. Sena... (senate.gov)
With time ticking away in the Trump administration, an interim consolidated compromise bill was drawn up.
Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act (Division V, Title I)
On Monday, December 21, 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes the House-Senate compromise of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft certification reform legislation, the Aircraft Certification, Safety and Accountability Act (“ACSAA”).
The ACSAA lays the groundwork for, among other things, certain FAA rulemakings related to and increased FAA oversight of the Type Certification process and the Organization Designation Authorization (“ODA”) system.
At a high level, the legislation requires:
- Safety Management System Rulemaking: The FAA must issue a final rule to mandate safety management systems for manufacturers who hold U.S. type and production certificates no later than 25 months after the ACSAA is enacted. Certificate holders will have four (4) years after the final rule is published to implement a compliant SMS. The final rule must include, among other provisions, provisions to (i) permit operational feedback from operators and pilots qualified on the manufacturer’s equipment to ensure that operational assumptions made during the design and certification phase continue to remain valid, (ii) require certificate holders to undergo continuous FAA inspections, audits, and other monitoring activities to ensure that they continue to meet SMS requirements, (iii) require each certificate holder’s SMS to include a confidential employee reporting system through which employees can report hazards, issues, concerns, occurrences, and incidents without reprisal, with reports submitted to the FAA at least twice a year, as well as an established code of ethics applicable to all appropriate employees.
- ODA Oversight: The FAA must convene an expert panel to review and make findings with respect to each current holder of an ODA for design and production of transport category aircraft, including an assessment of the effectiveness of the ODA holder’s SMS, its commitment to safety, its ability to make reasonable and appropriate decides with respect to its delegated functions, and any other matters as determined by the FAA. The panel will include a broad range of government and industry stakeholders, including representatives from NASA, the FAA, relevant labor unions, air carrier and ODA employees, and independent legal and technical experts. The panel will submit a final report to Congress and to the FAA Administrator, and, upon reviewing the findings, the FAA may limit, suspend, or terminate a specific ODA that was under review.
- Scope of Delegation under ODA: The FAA may not delegate any finding of compliance with applicable airworthiness standards or the review of any safety assessment required for the issuance of a certificate (including a Type Certificate) until the FAA has reviewed and validated the underlying assumptions related to human factors. The FAA must approve appointments of ODA unit members made on or after January 2, 2022.
- Part 25 Amendments: The FAA must amend its processes for certification of transport category aircraft and the underlying regulations, including a requirement that applicants for Type Certificates for transport category aircraft under Part 25 submit safety critical information, including (i) operating conditions that the applicant anticipates or has concluded could result in a hazardous of catastrophic outcome and (ii) any adverse handling quality that fails to meet the requirements of applicable regulations without the addition of a software system to augment the flight controls to produce compliant handling qualities. Type Certificate holders will also be required to submit newly discovered information or design or analysis changes that would materially alters any previous submissions to the FAA on an ongoing basis.
Among other provisions, the bipartisan agreement:
- 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 FAA and other federal agencies, to aid 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.
The Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act was included in H.R. 133. To access the provision directly, click here.