Boeing urges Congress to streamline aircraft certification process

Boeing urges Congress to streamline aircraft certification process
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A leading aircraft manufacturer is calling on Congress to streamline the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) certification process when lawmakers assemble an FAA reauthorization package this year.

The FAA’s certification process is meant to ensure that American-made aircraft and related products conform with U.S. safety regulations and meet the design standards of foreign civil aviation bodies.

But the aircraft manufacturing industry, which contributes billions to the economy and supports millions of jobs, has long lamented that delays in the process can lead to massive profit losses and undercut their ability to be globally competitive.

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John Hamilton, vice president of engineering for Boeing's commercial airplanes, told lawmakers on Wednesday that getting FAA-certified airplanes validated with foreign aviation authorities should “be quick and efficient” but can sometimes take as long as 14 months.

Boeing continues to be the country’s largest exporter, exporting $56.8 billion worth of products and services in 2015.

"This process is not meant to be a re-certification.” Hamilton said during a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing. “A validation should be just that — validating that the FAA conducted the type certificate work to the standards of the foreign regulatory authority in question.”

The hearing comes days before Boeing is scheduled to debut of its first 787-10 aircraft, the latest and biggest model of its Dreamliner family. President Trump, who has been critical of the high cost of Boeing’s Air Force One contract, will reportedly be on hand in North Charleston, S.C., to attend the rollout.

Hamilton pointed to the company’s other new product offering, the 737 MAX, which has been ordered by 83 different customers in 43 different countries. The FAA and Boeing, however, must seek approval from each of those foreign governments in order to deliver the aircraft.

“This is a time consuming task and requires FAA resources and, more importantly, a strong working relationship between the FAA and foreign regulators,” he said. “The aircraft certification service at the FAA can't efficiently complete these critical validation activities without support from Congress and a commitment by FAA senior leadership to make this work a priority.”

“Type certificate validation by other governments cannot be viewed as a secondary or lower priority function of the FAA," Hamilton added.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle seemed to agree.

Rep. Rick LarsenRick LarsenDems back bill to boost airfare transparency Both sides appeal to Trump in Norwegian Air fight A guide to the committees: House MORE (D-Wash.), ranking member on the aviation subcommittee, said that these “are not back burner issues,” while committee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) said that the “the certification process has its problems.”

“As manufacturers design and build to meet these standards, they can experience needless and harmful bureaucratic delays, both internationally and domestically,” said LoBiondo, whose district is home to the FAA tech center where certification research is performed. “These delays can be very detrimental to U.S. manufacturers trying to compete globally where every day of delay can mean real losses in both profits and jobs.”

Congress already took steps to help improve the aircraft certification process in 2012. Aviation legislation directed the FAA to assess the approval process; develop recommendations to streamline and increase its efficiency; identify the causes of inconsistent regulatory interpretations; and come up with ideas to improve consistency.

Peggy Gilligan, associate administrator for aviation safety at the FAA, pointed out during Wednesday’s hearing that the agency has also sought to resolve disputes that slow down certification by developing a communication board and creating a joint agency scorecard.

But lawmakers have signaled that they want to go further: Last year’s proposal to reauthorize the FAA included bipartisan reforms to the certification system.

The language would have created a resolution process to automatically elevate any missed major milestones to upper management. It also would have required FAA to establish performance objectives and track certain metrics developed by the committee.

That long-term reauthorization bill, however, stalled amid opposition to other parts of the measure and Congress ended up passing a short-term extension. But lawmakers will have another bite at the apple this year, as the FAA’s legal authority expires in September.

“Not to engage in the debate over the privatization of air traffic, but that is what caused these provisions to stall last year,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the full panel. “I would observe that certification, when the industry is polled broadly, is the number one issue.”