FAA plans to overhaul organizational designees

 - March 16, 2007, 2:39 PM

The FAA in January issued a proposal to replace the current designee program for organizations with a new one that expands the functions that designees can perform, permits non-FAA-certified individuals and companies to become designees and rolls existing organizational designee categories into one, “organization designation authorization” (ODA). Individual designees, such as check airmen, airworthiness and engineering representatives, would not be affected by this proposal.

In addition, as the FAA transitions to the ODA program, the agency would phase out the delegation option authorization (DOA), designated alteration station authorization (DAS), Special FAR 36 authorization and the organizational designated airworthiness representative (ODAR). These designees would have three years from the effective date of the new rules to transition their credentials to qualify as an ODA.

The proposal represents, in part, the recommendations of the delegation system working group established on March 29, 1993, within an industry/FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC). Specifically, the group was tasked with reviewing the current designee programs to determine what would improve the safety and the quality and effectiveness of the system. Also, the group was asked to recommend to the ARAC new and revised rules, as well as advisory, guidance and other collateral materials.

The FAA sought a recommendation for a comprehensive, up-to-date, systematic approach for delegating aircraft certification functions to both individuals and organizations. The expectation was that the proposed approach would provide a smooth transition from the current designation system to the recommended system, and the recommended system would be compatible with similar aviation systems of
other countries.

FAA Needs More Help from Industry
Several factors are already beginning to affect the certification process, said the FAA in the NPRM. “FAA workload continues to increase because of increased requests for services and increased levels of complexity in the products being introduced in the aerospace market.” Also, the FAA has focused its resources toward continuing the operational safety of “in-service products, and developing regulations and airworthiness standards necessary to increase the level of safety. The net effect is a decrease in FAA capacity to perform certification of products or other certificate holders. In combination, these factors have made it more difficult for the FAA to provide timely services to its customers.”

In response to these concerns, the FAA determined that the designee program could be improved by expanding the eligibility for qualified organizations. Currently, a designated organization must hold some type of FAA certificate, such as a repair station or manufacturer approval. The proposal will allow qualified organizations without FAA certificates to be eligible for certain designations. Also, the current rules are limited in what functions can be delegated. The proposal will allow the FAA to delegate to qualified organizations functions it “considers necessary.” The agency believes this expansion “would reduce the time and cost of the certification process.”

Benefits are gained, said the FAA, by appointing organizations rather than individual designees. Organizational designees are managed using a systems approach, which relies on the experience and qualifications of the organization, approval of the procedures used by the organization and oversight of the functions the organization performs. “Thus, the FAA can focus on that organization’s delegated functions as one system, rather than concentrating on monitoring and supervising individual designees.”

ODA Open to Non-certified Entities
Because there will be no eligibility requirement that an applicant hold any FAA certificate, consultant-type groups of engineering and inspection personnel, for example, could form an organization that would be eligible for an ODA. For general aviation operations, the proposed rule would allow designated organizations to issue airman certificates or authorizations under FAR Part 61, 63 and 91 and training centers under Part 142.

Functions currently delegated for individuals to perform would be available to ODA holders. For example, this includes issuing pilot certificates and authorizations to conduct aerobatic maneuvers in waivered airspace, letters of authorization (LOA) to operate aircraft for which no type designation exists and evaluation authority to issue additional pilot ratings or certificates.

Current DASs, DOAs, SFAR 36s and ODARs would need to apply for an ODA as soon as possible after the publication date of the final rule to allow time for the FAA to review their applications and draft procedures manuals and other materials. Other qualified organizations can apply for an ODA after publication of the final rule. The FAA’s main priority during the three-year transition period would be to manage the transition of the existing authorizations to ODAs. Other applications would be processed as FAA resources allow.

The FAA proposes that only applicants within the U.S. who have enough experience using standard certification procedures or those who are current designation holders would be eligible for an ODA. Oversight of non-U.S. activities would be unduly burdensome to the FAA, but eligibility would be expanded to include STC holders.

The agency has determined that certain functions will not be delegated yet because they are reserved for the FAA to perform or because experience should be gained with the new delegation system before expanding it to include these functions.

Delegation to ODAs would not include finding compliance for issuing repair station certificates; finding compliance for issuing training center certificates, issuing a type certificate and an amended type certificate; issuing a production certificate; approving quality-assurance procedures and manuals; issuing a PMA; making certain findings for issuing a design or a production approval, such as establishing the certification basis or special conditions; establishing means of compliance not previously accepted by the FAA and determining equivalent level of safety; determining operational suitability; approving MMELs, air-carrier minimum equipment lists, air- carrier flight crew operating manuals and air-carrier instructions for continued airworthiness.

The FAA’s cost estimates for initial and ongoing compliance with the new requirements by organizations already holding current designee status vary between $8,000 and $14,000 per designation, depending on the size of the ODA organization. Initial costs would be associated with developing new or revised manuals and record keeping, initial training and FAA application. Continuing compliance costs, including refresher training, audits and FAA reviews, would add another $8,000 to $14,000 annually per designation. The costs increase the more designated roles the ODA has.

Further, the FAA did not estimate the benefits or costs for companies or organizations that do not now hold a current designation authorization but that might apply for an ODA.

The FAA said safety benefits that would arise from an improved designation authorization system would be derived primarily from an enhanced FAA-approved procedures manual that would result in higher-quality and faster certification processes, and periodic ODA self-audits that would ensure certification activities were performed according to the procedures manual.

Although the FAA believes that these are real safety benefits, the agency concedes it is unable to calculate a “quantitative” value for them because the effect of these improvements in processes cannot be directly translated into a percentage increase in safety. “As a result, the FAA can only provide a qualitative discussion of the expected benefits of establishing an ODA system.”

Members of the delegation authorization working group and seven of the eight companies currently designees participating in the group’s research believe that the financial advantages of having an ODA would be sufficiently large that all, or nearly all, of the companies holding a current designation authorization would develop an ODA.

They further reported that an ODA, as proposed in this rule, would be more cost effective and would provide greater safety benefits than those provided by the current designation authorizations. Finally, the fact that many more designation authorization programs than the 21 ultimately selected by the FAA tried to enroll in the prototype program provides strong evidence that those programs had raised expectations of a positive cost benefits from participating in an ODA-like system.
Regarding general aviation, the FAA believes extending an ODA system to areas in GA that currently do not have designation authorization-type programs would provide similar benefits by reducing certification and authorization delays.

“In conclusion, the FAA believes that the benefits from the proposed rule would be greater than the costs of complying with the proposed rule.” Comments are due May 24. For more information, contact the FAA’s Ralph Meyer at (405) 954-7072.