FAA acting administrator Billy Nolen helped kick off the FAA-EASA Aviation Safety Conference this week emphasizing the need for the two organizations to work closely together on validations and other safety initiatives. Nolen also praised the progress made in expanding collaboration between the two entities, particularly in areas of pilot licensing and flight simulators.
In prepared remarks for the three-day event, Nolen estimated that the conference brought together more than 350 people to discuss changes in the industry and safety issues.
“Change has always been constant. But in aviation it’s happening faster and faster. We’re seeing tremendous levels of new technology and innovation in this industry,” Nolen said. The challenge, he added, is to enable “the tremendous innovation to safely occur that we’re seeing in aviation today.”
He added that the close relationship between the FAA and the EASA over the past decade has created a foundation for safety and called the U.S.-EU Aviation Safety Agreement the bedrock of that partnership. The agreement, which enables the safety agencies to validate each other’s certifications of products and parts and maximize oversight, “is vital to maintaining a safe aerospace system on both continents,” Nolen said. “We must recommit ourselves to this framework.”
The structure pushes the organizations to collaborate while holding each other accountable. “When we collaborate, both sides can devote more resources to areas that pose a higher safety risk,” he said. “Stepping outside our agreements would diminish an important tool that has enabled us to work together to achieve the safest period in aviation history.”
Nolen added he has been encouraged by the expansion of the annexes to cover pilot licensing and flight simulators. “Since last year, we have been aligning schedules on flight simulator evaluations, resulting in more timely completion, and less duplication, of these evaluations.” In addition, dozens of licenses have been issued to date under the Pilot Licensing Annex. “Best of all, this has been a smooth implementation process,” he said.
The FAA and EASA continue to work closely on Boeing 737 Max, he said, noting “important lessons” have resulted during their reviews. They further continue to collaborate on global pilot training standards through the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Personnel Licensing and Training Panel.
Nolen also stressed the benefits of safety management systems and said the agency is continuing its work to expand the mandate for such programs to manufacturers, airports, and aviation service providers. Initiatives such as safety management systems and other proactive safety and reporting initiatives have resulted in the collection of a significant amount of data, he said. “The more we can collect, analyze, and share safety data, and discuss safety issues openly and transparently between stakeholders throughout the world, the better we can achieve a more predictive aviation safety system."
FAA is further eyeing predictive analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, to develop streams of safety data that it can share with stakeholders and the international community. “Through open sharing of safety information, we’ve made aviation safer around the world.”
Nolen also spoke to concerns surrounding pilot mental health and emphasized the need to encourage pilots—and all safety professionals—to ask for help when they experience emotional or mental health challenges. “The FAA firmly believes there should be no stigma, or fears, about coming forward and being open about mental health challenges,” he said. Being open, transparent, and proactive is the key to success on mental health and other safety issues.
Additionally, addressing cybersecurity, Nolen noted the FAA is working through ICAO on a global mechanism called International Trust Framework that will provide for information sharing among only trusted entities across the international community.
As for future technologies, he said FAA is reviewing recommendations for rulemaking to enable beyond visual line of sight drone operations, initially focusing on flights at low altitudes. It also has several certification projects underway for advanced air mobility and is eying a 2024 timeframe for approvals, Nolen reported.