U.S., EU join forces on air safety

 - July 30, 2008, 9:14 AM

The FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) have signed a bilateral agreement that will strengthen air safety while reducing regulatory burdens and costs for manufacturers, operators and aviation authorities in the U.S. and Europe.

The signing took place on June 30 between the European Community and the U.S. at the end of a two-day transatlantic issues conference sponsored by the American Association of Airport Executives, APCO Worldwide and the International Association of Airport Executives in Brussels. Mirko Komac, director general of the Slovenian Civil Aviation Authority representing the EU presidency; Antonio Tajani, EC vice president in charge of transport; and acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell signed the document.

The agreement builds on years of regulatory cooperation on aviation safety between the FAA and its European counterpart. The accord involves the exchange of information on safety findings, including aircraft design and manufacturing, continued airworthiness and repair station oversight.

Both parties believe that the agreement will promote safety and harmonization by providing for regulatory cooperation, particularly in rulemaking and safety data exchange. It is also expected to lead to the expanded acceptance of European aviation products.

Implementation of the agreement will be overseen by a bilateral board, which will also provide a forum for discussion and consultation on safety issues. “Safety should not stop at the border,” said Sturgell.

The agreement will enter into force upon a subsequent exchange of diplomatic notes after each party to the agreement has completed any ratification procedures and final arrangements regarding EASA fees and charges are settled.

Sturgell noted that the FAA has been working with the EC for several years on exchanging ramp inspection data and “we recently completed successful demonstration of exchanging data.” He said the next step will be a memorandum of understanding to formalize the data-sharing.

According to the FAA, the pact will eliminate duplication–the multiple bilateral agreements that are now in force between the U.S. and numerous individual European Union members–which translates into lower costs and greater efficiencies.

Frédéric Copigneaux, EASA’s deputy director of certification, echoed that sentiment and provided specific examples. He pointed out that in terms of airworthiness the new agreement extends and enhances existing bilateral agreements. For EASA countries that already have a bilateral agreement with the U.S.–France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK–type validation procedures will be improved, Copigneaux said. In addition, STC validation on U.S. products is simplified.

For those countries without a bilateral agreement, the improvement is much more significant. Czech manufacturers, for example, will be allowed to apply for type validation. Such a procedure is much less stringent than a full certification process. Not all certification items are reviewed a second time. Rather, only those items that are still subject to different interpretation are. “As the certification and validation activities are performed in parallel, manufacturers save little time but a lot of effort,” Copigneaux said.

“This agreement is an important step forward in [EASA’s] international relations,” said Patrick Goudou, the agency’s executive director. “It acknowledges its role as a reliable partner for its counterparts worldwide and will serve to reinforce the very good relationship we already have with the FAA.”

A Streamlined Process

The purposes of the agreement are to allow the reciprocal acceptance of approvals and findings of compliance issued by the two aviation authorities, ensure the continuation of high-level regulatory cooperation and promote a high degree of safety in air transport. Its scope covers the airworthiness approvals and monitoring of civil aeronautical products; environmental testing and approvals; and the approvals and monitoring of maintenance facilities.

Thanks to the reciprocal acceptance of certificates, the agreement will result in better harmonized safety systems on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as less cumbersome technical and administrative procedures for the recognition of certificates. This will reduce costs and pave the way for a level playing field for European and U.S. manufacturers.

“We view this strategic partnership between the U.S. and the European Community as a real milestone that will advance our shared safety visions,” said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), who attended the signing. “The relationship between the U.S. and Europe has proved its resilience and continued transatlantic cooperation will increase efficiency and help bring new products to the global market more expeditiously. It’s good for aviation safety and business, it’s good for Europe and it’s good for the United States.”

He added that GAMA is looking forward to working with the global manufacturing industry, the FAA, EASA and European Commission to update validation processes and the EASA certification fees and charges regulation to be consistent with the principles of the bilateral agreement.