The FAA’s Flight Standards District Offices (FSDOs) have a backlog of applications for certificates that concerns the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s Office. As of last October, 1,029 new air operator, flight school and repair station applicants awaited certificates from FSDOs across all eight FAA regions, with 138 applications delayed longer than three years, the IG reported to Congress on June 12.
Each year, FSDOs process hundreds of applications for commercial air carrier, airmen, repair station, aircraft modification and other certificates. They also oversee existing certified operations. The FAA does not have a standardized approach to prioritize new certificate applications for air carriers and repair stations and treats them on a first-come, first-served basis, the IG found. “As a result, many applicants may be significantly delayed if more complex certifications are ahead of them in the queue,” the office stated. The FAA does not provide district managers with guidance on reevaluating their resources to address waitlisted applicants. Competing priorities and changing guidance from headquarters regarding the agency’s certification policy “have resulted in workflow interruptions and diminished incentives for inspectors to expedite new certification applicants.”
The IG’s office initiated the review after hearing from U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who wrote the IG in May last year to express his concern that the Denver FSDO was negligent in processing new certification applications. One company had waited two years for a Part 137 certificate to operate an aircraft for agricultural use. The IG discovered that the Denver FSDO had not issued a new air operator certificate since August 2010, nor a repair station certificate since November 2011. It had a waiting list of 42 applicants–one of the longest among 85 field offices. Of those applications, 19 were for Part 135 commercial air carriers and 13 for repair stations.
The FAA needs to take immediate steps to address the growing nationwide backlog, the IG said. “While ensuring the safety of current operators necessarily remains the FAA’s top priority, excessive or prolonged delays in certifying new operators and repair stations hinders the industry’s expansion and our nation’s economic growth,” the office warned.
The FAA concurred with several recommendations of the IG to improve its certification process, and said it is conducting an expedited review of the procedures of the Northwest Mountain Region, to which the Denver FSDO reports.