The FAA has “reset” its relationship with Boeing and stripped away some of the latitude the Chicago-based aerospace giant and other manufacturers have enjoyed under the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson reported to Congress on Thursday. However, during a House aviation subcommittee hearing on the FAA’s implementation of congressional mandates adopted in the aftermath of the Max crashes, Dickson also stressed that when implemented properly, ODA remains a useful and “a very powerful tool that enhances safety and allows us to leverage engineering expertise.”
In describing actions taken to comply with congressional directives and other working group and internal recommendations, Dickson said that the agency has restricted Boeing’s ability to issue airworthiness certificates for the Max, as well as the delegation of functions involving critical design features on the 777-9 and 737-10 projects.
“I have made it clear to [Boeing] continually that we will continue to exercise a high level of scrutiny,” he said, agreeing with the contention that the ODA with Boeing in the original Max certification “did not function properly."
Dickson addressed cultural changes ongoing at the FAA, spurred in part by investigations surrounding the Max certification. “Cultural issues always require attention,” he said, but he added that he has stressed to FAA staff that hierarchy would respect their decisions and not cast them aside as investigations had suggested had occurred during the Max certification. “As recently as yesterday, I communicated that I have their back when it comes to safety. And when it comes to making the safety decisions that they need to make, I am hearing through various means that the employees feel supported,” he said.
To help institute the efforts, the FAA has implemented a voluntary safety reporting program, Dickson said. “We have to have a mechanism where we work with our labor partners, with our employees, and also our leaders within the agency to make sure that issues are able to surface within the organization and that people feel empowered and that they are willing to bring things forward,” he said.
Asked about concerns that arose earlier this year about the potential for Europe pulling back from acceptance of FAA certification efforts, Dickson said that he has not seen any violations of the bilateral agreement and it remains "foundational to the relationship that we have.” An aviation safety summit that regulators recently held reinforced that assertion, he added, as both parties “recommitted to the importance of the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement.”
As for the specific mandates from Congress, Dickson noted that the 2020 Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act outlines more than 100 unique requirements that the agency is “implementing to make our aircraft certification and safety oversight more holistic, systematic, transparent, and effective."
"I could say with confidence that we are doing more for certification oversight, and we are doing it more systematically, since this time last year,” insisted Dickson.
The new approach includes delegating fewer responsibilities to manufacturers and demanding more transparency from them, he said; Dickson's testimony referred to some “significant” changes to the ODA program overall, such as requiring FAA approval of individual ODA unit members for certain ODA types and policy aimed at preventing interference with ODA unit members in the performance of their duties.
The FAA further plans to establish a panel to review ODAs involving transport category airplanes and make recommendations based on that assessment. This past April, the FAA realigned its ODA Office to create a direct report to the associate administrator for aviation safety, and the FAA already has begun adding to its ODA office staffing.
Another mandate concerned the “new product rule” or what aviation subcommittee chairman Rick Larsen (D-Washington) called the “stale type certificate” rule. The directive called on the FAA to determine at what point the FAA needs to approve a product under a new certification. Larsen asked about the progress of those efforts, noting that the Max 8 gained approval under an amendment to a nearly 50-year-old type certificate.
Dickson responded that a changed product working group began meeting in July and will make recommendations on the issue next year. In the meantime, the agency is working with international authorities—since a change to its approach to amended type certificates would require harmonization—as well as internally studying its policies. It also has tasked the research organization Mitre with assessing type certification approaches.
Full change may take until 2024, Dickson conceded. In the meantime, though, the agency will work on "decision criteria" and other related tasks, he added.
The FAA also has also made progress toward changes in training surrounding upset recovery and automation, Dickson added, addressing another area of concern raised during the Max investigations. The agency expects to release a draft advisory circular in a few weeks covering flightpath management, including guidance on areas such as manual flying skills, automation management, and active pilot monitoring. Further, Dickson said, the agency is working with the International Civil Aviation Organization on standards for upset recovery training.
Dickson answered concerns surrounding potential disruptions from the Covid-19 mandate. “We want people to get vaccinated as a country and we want to get Covid-19 behind us,” he said, but he added that the issue is under the purview of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “My focus is on aviation safety and on making sure that aviation system can operate," stressed, referring to his FAA priorities. "What we're really focused on is making sure that we minimize disruptions and making sure that we maximize predictability, like keeping the air traffic system operating.”