OEMs: FAA needs more certification engineers

 - September 18, 2006, 5:09 AM

Despite the addition of money for aircraft certification to the FAA budget for Fiscal Year 2006, original equipment manufacturers complained to a congressional panel meeting in Wichita that they are at a competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace because of continuing certification delays.

Congress added $4 million to the FAA’s budget request in FY2006 to restore staffing levels in the agency’s aircraft certification service and made it clear that the investment was intended to restore staffing to FY2004 levels.

The goal was to boost the declining number of certification engineers and address the current delay in the certification of new aerospace products and designs. In FY2005, budget cuts forced the FAA to slash its regulation and certification workforce by 300 employees, resulting in a slowdown and sequencing of certification.

At the House aviation subcommittee field hearing in Wichita in late March, the leaders of Cessna Aircraft and Raytheon Aircraft joined other OEMs and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) in urging the lawmakers to earmark more money for certification engineers.

Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton said that his company’s Citation Encore block point change suffered two delays under the FAA’s new 40-hour rule. Under that rule, any certification project that requires more than 40 hours on the part of the FAA is put into a general certification sequencing hold, where it waits its turn until FAA staffing can be made available.

“So no matter what new models we develop, no matter what efficiencies we adopt for manufacturing, no matter what safety-enhancing technologies we produce, no matter what our customers expect in terms of availability of new business aircraft tools, we can do nothing until the FAA tells us it is ready to staff our certification project,” he told the members of Congress.

Days before the hearing, the FAA told Cessna that it would not begin work on certification of the company’s new XL block point change, an upgrade to the current XL, for at least 90 days and that delay would continue until certification resources are available at the agency.

If this continues, Pelton warned, it will impede the industry’s ability to bring new products and technologies to the marketplace.

Jim Schuster, chairman and CEO of Raytheon Aircraft, emphasized that continuing certification delays could cost the U.S. its technological leadership, international competitiveness and–ultimately– jobs. He noted that with the creation of the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Union now has a powerful, single, FAA-like institution to certify new aviation products.

“Let me be very clear,” he said. “If the certification of new aviation products becomes onerous or subject to delays in the U.S., Raytheon Aircraft and the rest of the U.S. general aviation industry will be severely disadvantaged in the global marketplace.”

GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce said that GAMA fought hard last year to get Congress to increase FY2006 appropriations to restore staffing levels in the FAA’s aircraft certification service. But there is concern in the industry that the FAA is not using this funding for its intended purpose.

“Budget pressures led the FAA to reduce the number of aviation safety inspectors and engineers,” said Bunce. “As a result, the FAA has reduced the level of aircraft certification services provided to the industry, delaying the introduction of new products and technologies.”

Pelton told the panel that the FAA could delegate much of its certification work to the manufacturer under the FAA’s delegated option authorization program, which allows the company to conduct type, production and airworthiness certification functions.  

“Cessna, after all, has certified 26 airplanes in the past 10 years, more than any other company in the world,” he said. “We really do know what we’re doing.”