FAA Reauthorization Sets the Stage for 21st Century Aviation Oversight

I almost published this under the title “Congress Seeks to Privatize Air Traffic Control.”  Because that is the real headline.  And tomorrow, I expect that there will be newspapers that have headlines quite similar to that one.

But for the aviation parts community, the devil is always in the details.  Details like properly completed 8130-3 tags, Spec 106 parts/material certifications, and unusual occurrence statements.

Today, Congress published proposed legislation (known as the AIRR Act) to reauthorize the FAA and the biggest headline in that bill is air traffic control.  But there is plenty in this bill that could affect the rest of the industry.  Here is a quick summary of some items that may affect members of the ASA community:

Sec. 302. Safety Oversight and Certification Advisory Committee.  Congress is establishing an advisory committee that will be responsible for advising the Secretary of Transportation on policy-level issues related to FAA safety certification and oversight programs and activities.

Sec. 311. Aircraft certification performance objectives and metrics.  The FAA shall establish metrics for progress toward increasing certification efficiency, increasing accountability, “achieving full utilization of FAA delegation and designation authorities,” implementing risk management and systems safety principles, increasing transparency, training personnel in auditing systems and maintaining the leadership of the United States in international aviation and aerospace.

Sec. 312. Organization designation authorizations.  Establishes a new provision in the US Code for ODAs.  ODAs shall have a procedures manual, shall be entitled to full delegation of functions approved in the manual, but shall be subject to regular FAA inspection.  ODA holders shall cooperate fully with the FAA oversight activities.  FAA shall establish an ODA Office to coordinate ODA policy and oversight.
Sec. 314. Type certification resolution process.  Requires FAA to set policies and timelines for resolving type certification issues, and for elevating them when they cannot be resolved at the lower levels of the FAA.

Sec. 315. Safety enhancing equipment and systems for small general aviation
airplanes.  Requires FAA to streamline the installation of safety enhancing equipment and systems for small general aviation airplanes in a manner that reduces regulatory delays and significantly improves safety. This is something that the FAA has been working on already so they should be prepared to meet Congressional deadlines.

Sec. 317. Additional certification resources.  If the FAA needs to travel to a foreign country to help expedite the process of acceptance or validation of a US certificate, then the US applicant can reimburse the FAA for travel expenses (which makes it easier for the FAA to contribute to such efforts).  The FAA will have to keep metrics on this, including how often requests from US applicants to enter into such an arrangement were denied.

Sec. 331. Flight standards performance objectives and metrics.  The FAA shall establish metrics for progress toward eliminating delays in flight standards activities, increasing accountability, increasing use of delegation, increasing use of risk management principles, eliminating inconsistencies, and creating a streamlined appeal process for interpretations.

Sec. 332. FAA task force on flight standards reform.  Establishes a task force to study ways to make the Flight Standards Service better, including achieving more consistent regulatory interpretations.
Sec. 333. Centralized safety guidance database.  Create a database of aviation safety documents, with links to the regulations that they interpret.  This will include “acceptable means of compliance” documents.

Sec. 334. Regional Consistency Communications Board.  Establishes a Board that will help harmonize the guidance given by different offices.

Sec. 351. Promotion of united states aerospace standards, products, and services abroad.  This section gives the FAA promotion responsibilities, which were taken out of the law a number of years ago.  This limited promotion authorization is focused on international promotion, like promoting United States aerospace safety standards abroad, and facilitating and vigorously defending approvals of United States aerospace products and services abroad.  It will also reiterate our commitment to working with bilateral partners.

Sec. 352. Bilateral exchanges of safety oversight responsibilities.  Includes a requirement for the FAA to accept foreign airworthiness directives (ADs) issued by bilateral partners.  This could impose an unworkable burden on smaller US companies to track foreign AD proposals, because it will mean that the US companies will have to comment on the foreign AD, because it will have no reasonable opportunity to comment on a US version if the FAA is required to accept foreign ADs.

Sec. 353. FAA leadership abroad.  This will require the FAA to better support US companies in foreign acceptance or validation projects.  one clear element of this will be through increased US engagement with foreign authorities.

Sec. 613. Aircraft registration.  Increase the term of an aircraft registration for a noncommercial general aviation aircraft to 10 years.

Sec. 615. Air transportation of lithium cells and batteries.  The government will establish a committee, and try to make sure that people actually comply with lithium battery shipping requirements.

Reauthorization is often a slow process, but the last reauthorization bill was a six month extension that went into effect October 1, 2015.  That means that the new reauthorization bill is needed by April 1, 2016.  It is possible that this ATC privatization may be contentious (General Aviation groups contend that it is an effort to shift the expense of maintaining the system into their pockets) and that could slow down the progress of the AIRR Act.  If the AIRR Act cannot be passed by April then we could see another temporary reauthorization (e.g. for another six months).  But it is possible that the AIRR Act could move on a fast track, and become law, later this Spring.

About Jason Dickstein
Mr. Dickstein is the President of the Washington Aviation Group, a Washington, DC-based aviation law firm. He represents several aviation trade associations, including the Aviation Suppliers Association, the Aircraft Electronics Association, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and the Modification and Replacement Parts Association.

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