European industry praises EASA for rule implementation

 - February 27, 2009, 11:37 AM

Now more than five years old, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is succeeding in fulfilling its primary mission of implementing a single set of rules across 31 countries but the agency must reassess its stance on certification fees, according to industry stakeholders. Manufacturers appear happy to see the EASA replacing national aviation authorities (NAAs) in the certification process, but they question both the principle and the amount of certification fees, citing a potential conflict with the EASA’s independence. The Cologne, Germany-based agency includes all 27 European Union (EU) countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

“The creation of EASA has been positive; now we get certification in all European countries in one shot,” according to Alain Picard, Dassault’s technical director of certification. The EASA’s predecessor, the joint aviation authorities (JAA), had indirect power–and it was much less integrated. Each JAA country could have specific questions or requirements, Picard recalled. For example, only the UK required stick shakers.

Guy Grienche, chief of Turbomeca’s airworthiness department, agreed, saying the EASA has delivered on its promises despite some skepticism. “Cologne is not
a major city in Europe’s aerospace industry [Cologne still hosts a major cryogenic wind tunnel and the European astronaut center] and the agency began its life by drawing on the NAAs’ human resources,” he noted. Nevertheless, early suggestions that the trend could be toward more self-regulation were not followed. Rather, “chief executive Patrick Goudou managed to steer in the right direction,” Grienche said.

Europe’s alphabet groups agree. As Mick Sanders, the airworthiness manager of Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), put it, “The EASA has become what we have required for years–an effective, single European regulator.” He noted it accomplished that goal quickly and pointed out that Europe’s approach to aviation safety is no longer fragmented.

“The inception of the EASA has removed the requirement for STC trading,” European business aviation association (EBAA) chief executive Eric Mandemaker added. He explained that some STCs were valid only in some countries, complicating the sale of STC’d aircraft within Europe. However, he believes it is too early to say whether EASA (which came into being in September 2003) has delivered on its promises. “We will wait for the EASA’s remit to be fully extended,” he said, which will happen in 2012.

According to Turbomeca’s Grienche, the certification process itself is basically unchanged from the one that existed under the NAAs. He knows what he is talking about–the first type certificate the EASA issued in 2003 was for the Turbomeca Arriel 2B1A turboshaft engine. What has changed is the people involved in the certification process. “For two years, we have not been in touch with the French aviation authority, the DGAC,” said Grienche. Rather, Turbomeca deals with three primary certification managers and one design organization approval (DOA) manager. They are from various European countries.

The EASA has a joint certification process with the FAA that makes it relatively easy for the FAA to validate a European certification and vice versa. The program also existed under the JAA, but the switch to the EASA has “strengthened” this process, Picard said. He noted, however, that the FAA sometimes still asks a few different questions. “In that case, additional tests are often delegated to the EASA,” he said. However, both Picard and Grienche pointed out that the FAA and EASA still do not have a full bilateral agreement, as the French DGAC and the FAA used to have.

Non-European countries often take EASA certification into account. Dassault started the Russian certification process for the Falcon 7X in December and it expected local authorities would take EASA paperwork into account, to a large extent. Also, it is quite common for other countries’ authorities to send delegations. Those foreign experts spend a couple of weeks at a manufacturer’s facility, studying manufacturer documentation such as test results.

Some countries do this to obtain technical data for their own industry, according to Turbomeca’s Grienche. “In those cases, we would like the EASA to support us better,” he said, commenting that the agency currently lacks the capacity to do so.  

An EASA spokeswoman told AIN that the agency is aware of such cases. “When notified, the EASA contacts the authority in question to clarify the extent of information it needs [...] under the Chicago Convention,” she said. She also emphasized that the agency is “active in negotiating working arrangements with third countries.”

Debate Over Certification Costs

But the main criticism the industry has voiced is certification fees. According to Grienche, certification fees for one of Turbomeca’s engines can range from €60,000 to €200,000 ($84,000 to $280,000). The manufacturer pays the fee directly to EASA, not to a tax administrator. He disagrees in principle, noting, “You do not usually pay an examiner.” Moreover, the fee is the same for certification and validation, Picard said.

While the UK has always charged industry for aircraft certification, most other European states have absorbed these costs directly. FAA certification or validation is a free process. “This [difference] is what prevents the signing of a full bilateral agreement,” he continued.

“The tariff of the fees and charges already takes into account our close technical cooperation with the FAA,” according to an EASA spokesman. For example, there is automatic acceptance of FAA repairs and modifications up to level two (major modifications). However, “the conclusion of a wide-ranging bilateral aviation safety agreement with the U.S. should not be jeopardized by discussion of fees and charges,” the spokesman said.

Picard raised the issue of agency independence. “What if one manufacturer contributes significantly to EASA funding? If the agency needs money, will it give priority to more lucrative tasks? We are talking about safety,” he said, lobbying for increased funding from the European Union.

EASA member states funded 31 percent of the agency’s nearly e102 million ($143 million) budget last year. Revenues from fees and charges provided more than 50 percent of the total. European law calls for EASA certification activity to be financially self-sufficient, which apparently was the case last year.

“ASD wants a properly funded agency. We believe funding needs to be reviewed both for real stability and independence,” said Sanders. He urged states to support central funding of the EASA because it guarantees “independence of the regulator and the regulated.” EASA funding has been a longstanding issue.

The EASA counters that the agency is founded on a regulation that introduces the “user pays” principle. On the independence issue, the spokesman pointed out that since all applicant companies have to pay for certification fees, “there is no possibility for discrimination.” Moreover, the fees charged are not set by the result of the technical investigation, he said.

Another point at issue has been whether safety regulations are being implemented uniformly across Europe. “It is a far better [construct] than the one we had five years ago; there has been a great deal of effort,” ASD’s Sanders told AIN. Turbomeca’s Grienche noted there are still a few local fiefdoms. “It is no good having someone who just wears his EASA cap from time to time,” he said. EBAA’s Mandemaker voiced concern that rule enforcement is still “a matter of interpretation by NAAs, to some extent.”

To that claim, the EASA spokesman responded, “It is in the nature of EU law that enforcement takes place at the national level,” and he insisted that standardization activities have been effective. For example, he cited “profound institutional and organizational changes” for some authorities.

From 2012 onward, the agency’s remit will be extended to air traffic management and “aerodromes.” “I can only imagine these sectors will get the same kind of benefits we have seen,” Sanders predicted. However, he emphasized that any remit extension must be properly funded. Mandemaker added that, should the EASA issue rules in fields other than safety, such as the environment, the different sets of rules can only clash. “Developing EASA’s responsibilities is a wrong track,” he stated.

Eurocopter declined to comment on its experience with the EASA. “Nobody is available and EASA is a touchy topic here,” a spokeswoman said. Separately, AIN’s repeated requests for a phone interview remained unanswered by engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce.