FAA Transforming To Highlight Expertise

 - April 12, 2017, 12:21 PM

The FAA is revamping two major branches, Flight Standards Service (AFS) and Aircraft Certification Service (AIR), to move toward a more streamlined approach that emphasizes areas of expertise rather than the traditional regional or directorate divisions.

FAA officials have begun detailing the reorganization of both AFS and AIR, saying most points of contact will remain the same for industry. But the management of the structures and reporting chains will differ.

“Whereas we were previously geographically divided by regions and by district boundaries, we understand that might not be the most effective way to manage,” James Viola, manager of the FAA’s General Aviation and Commercial Division, told an audience at Heli-Expo in Dallas, in detailing changes ahead for AFS. Viola outlined a number of reasons for the reorganization of AFS, among them budget constraints, accountability and the adoption of risk-based strategies. Also, “We constantly want to improve quality of the work with industry,” he said. Rather than managing by geographical location, AFS will be managed by functional areas, “so we have experts from bottom to top…and work closely with industry, which is the ultimate expert,” Viola added.

The organization will be streamlined with a small group of leaders managing AFS, but each leader will have a sharper focus on function. Standards will be aligned under the functions with the aim of reducing duplication or overlap.

General aviation and Part 135 will filter up to “one person” who has the expertise to make that decision, he said.

'Getting to Yes'

The AFS reorganization, however, is more than a restructuring of leaders, Viola said. It is a cultural change. The reorganization will entail an interdependency within the agency and a change to emphasize “How do we get to yes?” Viola said.

He cited as an example an application for Part 141 flight school recognition that is submitted to a Flight Standards District Office that might not have the personnel to handle the certification process. The reorganization is designed to facilitate such a situation, by enabling the FAA to assemble a team from across the agency to take a more standardized approach to that certification. Under this approach, he said, “We can be world leaders on standardized safety training and we can really make an impact on general aviation safety.”

The FAA has undertaken a number of “change management” initiatives, both within the agency and with industry, so everyone is on the same page. “This is not something you can just say ‘Here’s what we’re doing’….and everyone lines up to do it,” Viola said. “We’re working so everyone understands why we are changing, the benefits of changing for both inside and outside and how we are going to provide streamlined efficiency.

As for the certification service, the FAA has dubbed the reorganization “AIR Transformation,” and even set up a web page to explain the changes.

Lance Gant, manager of the FAA’s Rotorcraft Directorate, provided details on some of the AIR changes to the Heli-Expo audience, saying it builds upon the “pretty explicit direction” from Congress to improve its processes. The change is a necessary one, he said. “A lot of things have changed for us…We recognize there are a lot of new entrants into the National Airspace System. We have global manufacturing.”

AIR has already taken a number of steps to improve the process, he said, citing a move to a risk-based approach and development of a “scorecard” for the use of organization designation authorization. “The thing we are working on now is realignment of the certification service,” he added. Under the reorganization, the traditional directorate structure “goes away” and will be replaced with functional divisions. The three primary divisions involving industry interface are policy and innovation; compliance and airworthiness; and system oversight. Two other divisions, organizational performance and enterprise operations, are designed for monitoring the organization and providing the necessary resources.

One of the key outcomes anticipated with these changes will be the approach to certification. The FAA wants to prepare for certification projects, rather than react to them, Gant said. “In the past we’ve always told applicants when you are ready to certify something that’s when you can come to us. Now we are encouraging applicants to come in early before they are ready for certification…. so we can start developing policy or methods of compliance around the technology.”

New technologies, especially those that weren’t already anticipated under existing standards, would slow down certification processes. The FAA wants to change that. “The FAA and industry have a common goal. The FAA values compliance but we also understand industry needs to get product to market efficiently and quickly because it’s competitive out there,” Gant said.

He stressed that these changes must be conducted in partnership with industry. “It’s not just for the FAA to make change. We need industry to make a commitment to operate differently,” he said. “The critical path is not people. It is processes with the FAA. The critical path is shared by the FAA and industry.”