While the FAA has moved forward on sweeping changes in how it approaches Part 23 aircraft certification projects, the agency needs to provide more detailed training to inspectors and better evaluate whether the changes are working as intended, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress.
The FAA overhauled its Part 23 regulations in 2016, adopting a performance-based approach to certification. Under this approach, the regulations do not prescribe specific methods of achieving the required results.
Conceding that this approach, which took effect in 2017, is still early in the implementation, the GAO said in its report to Congress that the FAA “has faced delays and challenges in its initial design reviews under this new approach.” The government watchdog noted that FAA staff have said they were uncertain about the level of detail that applicants must provide to demonstrate their designs meet the regulations.
“This and other challenges are partly due to a lack of guidance on how to address issues created by this new approach,” GAO contended. The FAA has provided training, but FAA staff have described the training as more high level and believe they need more detailed guidance. “Taking steps to provide additional information to FAA staff would help address the challenges staff are facing, reducing potential delays and inconsistencies in reviews and ensuring airplane designs fulfill FAA's safety requirements,” the GAO said.
Further, the FAA has not developed performance measures for the changes in Part 23 certification. The move toward performance-based regulations is designed to improve safety, reduce regulatory costs, and spur innovation and technology. However, GAO said, “Without performance measures, FAA will face difficulties in determining the effects of the revised regulations.”
GAO issued seven recommendations surrounding providing more complete guidance to FAA staff and developing metrics to track the effects of the performance-based approach.