Back when David Bernstorf was involved in certifying new aircraft and developing supplemental type certificates for his employer, he joked about backing up a truck onto the parking lot of the FAA certification office and dumping the huge volumes of paper that accompany any certification program. Joking aside, all of the paper can amount to a truckload. Assembling that volume of paperwork, not to mention finding one report in the huge pile, was a frustrating endeavor.
After retiring from Hawker Beechcraft in 2010 as vice president of safety and certification, Bernstorf decided to do something about the inefficient certification process and launched BCX Software, in partnership with Larry Van Dyke of ICX Consulting (also a Hawker Beechcraft retiree), to develop the electronic airworthiness management system (AMS).
To launch the effort, BCX held an industry meeting in November to find out what participants want in the AMS. “We see this as a product not just for aircraft but also for key suppliers such as engine and propeller manufacturers and for avionics companies,” Bernstorf said. He added that the system is designed “not only for type certificate activities but also for supplemental type certificates and TSOs [technical standard orders]. So far I think we’ve had good reaction from industry.”
The process of gathering the material involved in certification–mostly reports about tests and compliance methods–is not always done using just Word and Excel files, but it is common, according to Bernstorf, who is president of BCX. “Some larger companies have good information technology infrastructure and will probably keep their records and a lot of data files on their own systems.” But AMS will be designed to work for both small and large companies. The idea is that proprietary data would reside in large companies’ own information technology infrastructure, but smaller companies would rent secure space on AMS servers.
Efficient Certification through Standardized Processes
Bernstorf is hoping that regulators outside the U.S. will be interested in using AMS, so everyone involved in the certification process can collaborate electronically on the project. “That’s our goal,” he said. “We’re exploring how that would work with the FAA. The main thing we’re trying to accomplish is [getting] a common application that everybody across the industry uses.”
A key benefit of AMS will be standardization of nomenclature and processes, which should make certification more efficient. “If we can simplify that part of the process, then we can focus resources on technical issues or regulatory concerns that need to be resolved,” Bernstorf said. There also needs to be a strong focus on the user interface. “Clearly the easier the system is to use, the more effective it can be.”
BCX has not yet selected the database platform on which the system will run. “We’re working on the requirements definition with the company that will do software development for us,” he explained. “We may choose to use Oracle or another tool. We want to use an existing product, a platform that is readily accessible for domestic and international customers. We’ve got to be careful to pick something that is not proprietary or ITAR [international traffic in arms regulations] restricted. If we can’t use it with international authorities we’re kind of stuck.”
AMS should generate a 2- to 5-percent improvement in efficiency, Bernstorf said. “That’s hard to assess until you get some real runtime. We believe it’s in that range and could even be more.” Cost hasn’t been determined yet, but will likely be assessed on an annual basis, with options for ongoing support, server space and other add-on services.
BCX plans to hold a second meeting this month in Wichita to solicit more industry feedback and to move the AMS project forward. “We believe this is a tool that industry and regulators need desperately,” Bernstorf concluded. “They need to be able to make changes to a product effectively, keep it up to date and get that done in an efficient manner.”