The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is pushing international regulators to strengthen cooperation, concerned that political, budgetary, and pandemic-related complexities are straining those efforts. GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce said his members have seen some of this collaboration pull back somewhat, particularly in the area of certification and validation projects.
International regulators have become more hands-on in certification approaches, he told AIN. “We are seeing increased involvement, technical involvement in programs that we did not see before,” he said.
This comes against the backdrop of the certification concerns raised during and after the investigations of the Boeing Max crashes. During a European Parliament committee discussion on the EASA recertification, EASA Director-General Patrick Ky had indicated plans to “increase our level of involvement [and] our level of independent review of U.S. projects to build our own safety assessments.”
These remarks concerned House Republican leaders to the point where they reached out to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, saying the comments could suggest an undermining of the U.S.-EU bilateral aviation safety agreement.
Calling international harmonization one of the association’s top priorities, GAMA chairman Nicolas Chabbert, who is senior v-p of Daher's aircraft division and CEO of Daher Aircraft and Kodiak Aircraft, stressed the importance of collaboration between international regulators. “We cannot just take one piece and isolate it,” he said Wednesday during GAMA’s State of the Industry press conference. “It is all together. We need to continue to have a very strong relationship and commitment from both FAA and EASA for continued cooperation and collaboration using this bilateral.”
Bunce conceded that some of the pulling back “is probably directly attributable to the political pressure that we’ve seen in the fallout from the Max crashes.” But he stressed that this doesn’t just involve U.S. and European aviation authorities. This has been experienced with others as well.
The long-time GAMA chief also noted that the collaboration concerns are not solely an issue of the Max fallout. Many other factors are playing a role, including reduced budgets that come as aviation businesses have been unable to keep up with certain payments to regulatory agencies during the pandemic. Bunce noted that this has been the case with EASA.
Further, the pandemic itself had served as a deterrent for certain services with international operation restrictions and health concerns.
However, he was optimistic that the major regulatory agencies remain committed to working together, pointing to the ongoing work of the Certification Management Team (CMT) that involves collaboration between the FAA, EASA, Brazil’s ANAC, and Transport Canada. Although, he noted that Canadian participation has been hampered somewhat by turnover more recently.
Bunce added that he expects the UK will also take a seat at that table as it continues to build up its civil aviation authority outside of EASA.
Also encouraging were discussions his members had with both FAA and EASA officials during the GAMA board meetings this week. These officials told GAMA members that one of the prime ways to solve this is to work through this CMT process, Bunce added.
Key to making progress is transparency, he added. “There is no way any government regulating body can have the expertise that is resident within industry. The more transparent that our members are to the testing process, all the processes that they go through, the more the regulator learns, and the more trust is built not only with that regulator, but when we bring in all the regulators. It speeds validation.”
GAMA members have agreed with this. “Transparency and true partnership with the agency very important,” said Chabbert, whose company now has aircraft in production in both the U.S. and Europe.
Colin Miller—Gulfstream Aerospace's senior v-p of innovation, engineering, and flight—told reporters earlier in February that his company has been “watching and learning” from the certification lessons of the 737 Max and working closely in collaboration with the FAA. But he emphasized that a fundamental part of Gulfstream’s certification strategy has been to be “completely visible” in every test.
Michael Amalfitano, president and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets, said this collaboration has been critical for a company like Embraer. “We understand the challenges of multiple certifications,” but noted that by bringing in multiple authorities early—“from pre-design to final certification”—the company has been able to almost simultaneously certify aircraft in Brazil, the U.S., and Europe.
And while the pandemic has brought complexities with certification, it has brought a benefit: the advent of the use of remote technology to aid certification efforts. “We believe very strongly that this can be built into processes.”
Bunce agreed with that assessment. He noted that while competitive, the OEM chiefs often will roll up their sleeves and work together on major issues, as they have during this pandemic. They have shared ideas on the use of remote technologies. “We’ve been able to use this new virtual technology, to be able to have them witness compliance and do an inspection.”
GAMA is looking at ways to codify some of these activities and enable more inspections to be conducted remotely.
“It is very disruptive for any manufacturer to have a steady stream of audits, multiple different entities coming into your factory facilities every week or every month for paperwork compliance and things like that. If we can do it virtually, it saves the regulator money and travel costs, and it saves, saves companies time and energy,” he said.
But this extends beyond paperwork. He pointed to flight tests, where video technologies in the cockpit and real-time telemetry enable all the authorities to witness the same flight. “I do believe that this pandemic has provided us some opportunities to leverage later on.”
But all of this circles back to having the collaboration with the authorities and among the authorities.
“Our lifeblood is being able to have regulators work with one another to be able to produce a product in one part of the world and be able to have it used, operated, or integrated into a manufactured product in another part of the world,” Bunce said during the GAMA State of the Industry virtual event. “We’ve got to have bilateral safety agreements with those that have demonstrated their safety competency between nations.”