House Clears Aircraft Certification Reform Act

 - November 17, 2020, 5:39 PM

The House on Tuesday approved by voice vote a comprehensive bill designed to address many of the concerns raised about aircraft certification in the aftermath of the Boeing 737 Max crashes.

Passage of the Aircraft Certification Reform and Accountability Act, H.R.8408 comes a little more than a month after the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bipartisan legislation, also by voice vote. Introduced by the leadership of the House T&I Committee and the aviation subcommittee in late September, H.R.8408 includes more than two dozen measures designed to strengthen FAA oversight of certification and Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) activities involving transport-category (Part 25) aircraft.

The bill would create an independent expert review panel to review Boeing's ODA in particular, but more generally would require comprehensive periodic reviews of manufacturing ODA capabilities and increase oversight of individuals involved in ODA activity. Further, H.R.8408 would limit certification delegation involving the design of a “novel or unusual design feature" and steps up requirements surrounding disclosure of safety-critical systems, as well as whistleblower protections.

It also targets training and skills of the FAA certification oversight staff, setting aside $27 million each year through Fiscal Year 2023 for hiring, training, and development of engineers, safety inspectors, human factors specialists, and software and cybersecurity experts.

H.R.8408 includes many of the safety goals of legislation introduced in June by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi). In addition to stepping up oversight over ODAs, both bills would mandate safety management systems for manufacturers.

“Congress has an obligation to the 346 victims of the two Boeing 737 Max crashes and their families, as well as the traveling public, to ensure the safety of air travel,” said House aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington). “This bipartisan bill helps restore the integrity of the aircraft certification process by improving aviation safety culture, enhancing transparency, and integrating human factors to ensure pilots and flight crews can do their jobs safely."

Larsen added he would continue to work with congressional leaders to ensure its passage. Larsen’s Republican counterpart on the aviation subcommittee, Garret Graves (R-Louisiana) called the bill a result of industry-wide collaboration. The measure has received the support of many of the unions representing FAA workers, pilots, flight attendants, and manufacturing workers, among others.