The FAA's ability to certify new technologies and aircraft components needs to be greatly improved if the agency wants to support growing demand for certifying NextGen technologies and procedures, according to the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
During a hearing before the House subcommittee on aviation Wednesday, Jeffrey Guzzetti, assistant inspector general for aviation audits, outlined the challenges facing the FAA's current certification procedures.
"FAA lacks an effective method to prioritize new certifications for air operators and repair stations. Instead, the agency uses a first come-first served approach to certifications. As a result, many applicants may be significantly delayed if more complex certificationsare ahead of them," said Guzzetti.
Currently there are 1,029 new air operator and repair station applicants awaiting certification, including 138 applicants that have been waiting more than three years and one applicant that has been awaiting certification since 2006, according to Guzzetti.
The FAA's first-come, first served model for approving new applicants leads to delays because certain applications, such as larger Part 135 air carrier applicants, which require more staff and effort due to the size and complexity of their applications.
An example of these delays is the inability of the agency to get angle of attack (AoA) indicators installed into general aviation (GA) aircraft. These devices are commonly found in military and commercial aircraft, providing a better parameter for pilots to use in avoiding a stall.
The FAA has expressed interest in getting this technology into the cockpits of GA aircraft, however the arduous certification process has greatly stalled their progress, especially with the high costs presented by certification of this technology for smaller airplanes.
[Angle of Attack indicator in a Cessna 177. Photo, courtesy of Alpha Systems.]
"Trying to get angle of attack indicators into certified aircraft is a really good example," said Greg Bowles, director of engineering and manufacturing during an interview with Avionics Magazine.
"While the FAA has said this is a safety priority, we still haven't seen those projects get completed. A number of companies are working on getting that equipment installed in aircraft, and there are roadblocks that keep popping up that prevent that from happening right now," said Bowles.
The average cost of installing an AoA indicator into a Part 23 GA aircraft is about $500 without any certification paperwork or oversight, according to Bowles. However, in the certified environment, that cost shoots up to $5,000 or more and faces significant delays in actually making it into the cockpit.
The FAA is working to improve its certification process though. For example, the agency is currently waiting for lawmakers to pass the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013.
The act would streamline the agency's certification process applicable to smaller aircraft based on recommendations from the Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which was co-chaired by Bowles in an effort to change the certification process based on input from the manufacturers who work through the process on a daily basis.
However, Guzetti said the agency's backlog of certification applications will be further complicated as it continues to implement NextGen, its modernization of the nation's air transportation system.
Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), a new satellite-based system that relies on new avionics to communicate flight information to pilots and air traffic controllers is a good example of this.
"The most significant benefits from ADS-B rely on ADS-B In advanced applications, which have yet to be implemented and will require certification as well. It remains unknown when FAA will be able to develop these applications and how long the certification process will take," said Guzetti.
"ADS-B will further contribute to FAA’s certification workload because FAA must also certify the new procedures that allow pilots and controllers to use the new technology," Guzetti added.
Dorenda Baker, director of the FAA's aircraft certification service, also testified before the aviation subcommittee Wednesday. She said the agency is working with the industry to implement changes, and is looking forward to the passage of the Small Airplane Revitalization Act "quite shortly," and is using a risk-based approach, focusing on areas of highest risk.
"The FAA is underway in addressing concerns identified as a result of the provisions in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012," Baker said. "Our efforts are transparent and are being done with the support of industry."
Related: Commercial Avionics News