CAVU Café: Royboy’s Prose & Cons

*Note: The views expressed in CAVU Café: Royboy’s Prose & Cons blog are those solely of the writer and are not necessarily shared by the Aviation Suppliers Association or the Association’s staff, members, or Board of Directors.

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By Roy Resto

My spleen seeks comfort in being vented, so this is going to be one of those articles.

Regarding Max, let’s be clear; the issue will be fixed, the lessons learned, and the aircraft will return to be the economic best-selling performer it was meant to be. Period.

I have always been impressed with our industry’s capacity to get to the root cause of any problem devoid of emotional, political, or institutional influences, for example in accident investigations.

But not this time.

I don’t ever recall seeing an accident investigation so clouded by politics, institutional posturing (unions, government groups) trade organisations, self-declared talking-head experts, and amateur news editorializing, as with the Max. Every current and former employee except the janitors have found expert expression in every media platform; wow. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of today’s hyper-sensitive society, I don’t know, but it’s clear that all these powerful external influences appear to have had great influence in sidetracking the essential work of root cause analysis and corrective action, sometimes in circus-like atmospheres. One of the sidetrack issues appears to be the pontificating going on regarding ODAs, Organizational Designation Authorization.

In the history of aviation, ODAs are a relatively recent addition to the FAA’s system of delegating whereby individuals and organizations are authorized to perform duties on behalf of the FAA which they would otherwise perform themselves. Such entities are thus ‘designated’ by the FAA and generally referred to as Designees. For example, DARs and DERs are designees. This system finds its most basic authority in Federal Aviation Regulation 183, and for ODAs, 183 Subpart D which states in part that ODAs can “…perform specified functions on behalf of the Administrator related to engineering, manufacturing, operations, airworthiness, or maintenance.” Boeing, like so many other Type Certificate holders has an ODA, and the Max was certified under that system. But before we go on to the ODA topic, lets objectively look at our own sidebar, ADs; yes, Airworthiness Directives.

Every country’s respective civil aviation authority (CAA) with responsibility for oversight of the Type Certificated products manufactured in their jurisdiction issues ADs. Type Certificates are only issued to Aircraft, Engines, and Propellers. Every Type Certificated product I’m aware of has had multiple ADs issued to them; Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Bombardier, Cessna, GE, CFM, Pratt & Whitney, and Lockheed, and on and on. There are hundreds upon hundreds of ADs.

According to FAA Federal Aviation Regulation 39: “This part prescribes airworthiness directives that apply to aircraft, aircraft engines, propellers, or appliances when:

  • An unsafe condition exists in a product; and
  • That condition is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design.
  • No person may operate a product to which an airworthiness directive applies except in accordance with the requirements of that airworthiness directive.”

Sadly, many ADs have been issued after loss of life.

The overwhelming majority of Type Certificates have and will continue to be issued by the CAAs, without the use of ODAs. If there are so many ADs against those TC products, does that mean that somehow the CAA-TC system is broken since there are so many apparent safety issues which may have been overlooked in the design stage; that this system needs to be replaced? We don’t hear that talk, and rightly so.

On the other hand, it appears that in the charged atmosphere of Congressional hearings, the concept of ODAs has come under severe criticism, for example:

“A lot of Members of Congress have opined on the efficacy of the FAA’s Organization Designation Authorization—from “foxes in the hen house” to “coziness” to “conflicts of interest” to “ceding its mission” to “the power of the paycheck” to “complacency.”” 1

A Chicago Tribune article titled “Commentary: Get Boeing and the FAA out of the air safety inspection process”, quotes Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

“There’s no question the current system is broken, and it needs reform urgently and immediately” 3

Another article opined that

“Those familiar with the evidentiary standards of the US Congress, perception frequently outweighs facts and thus it is quite possible that ODA will be legislatively terminated only years after Congress specifically authorized this delegation.” 2

So…should the Congress cease all delegations and bring that work back in-house to the FAA? Not so fast:

“…then-acting FAA Administrator Daniel Elwell said some delegation was essential. Taking back all the tasks associated with certifying new airplanes would require an additional $1.8 billion and a 10,000-person increase in its staff, Elwell said during a Senate hearing in March.” 2

Given the unlikelihood of that funding, have there been any other suggestions? How about 3rd party certification; not the FAA, and not the manufacturer? It turns out there has been some precedence for this idea. In the process of researching this article some fascinating history came to light. It turns out that between 1921 and 1925, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) did just that and here’s a sample certificate:

Could a third party like UL be used to independently take over the certification process and have the manufacturer pay for it?

“There is no reason why an organization like the FAA should have to hire PhDs and have enough technical people to keep up with Boeing,” said Sandy Murdock, a former deputy administrator of the FAA. “We should have Underwriters Labs do the work and have Boeing pay for it.” 2

But alas, UL apparently was not enthusiastic about the idea; no surprise here.

So, we come full circle. The FAA is unlikely to get the funding which would be needed to bring the work in-house, and it’s similarly unlikely that a third-party organization would rise to the gargantuan task of certification. What to do? It’s clear; forget the political posturing and let the aviation professionals investigate and independently arrive at the real, root cause issues that need the attention. Could the ODA have done better? If yes identify the issues and take the steps to fix it and prevent reoccurrence. For accidents of this proportion, there is seldom a single causal issue. ODA: fix it; requiring SMS for manufacturers: do it; airlines improving pilot training?: get it done; better software review?: enhance it; etc.

If we’re going to have an honest discussion of Delegation, we need to acknowledge two things:

  1. There are certain Government Labor groups (unions) who for years have looked upon Delegation as out-sourcing work that should be properly 100% in the domain of its federal employees. There is the possibility that such persons may have been waiting for years for such accidents to occur for the opportunity to privately express their views as “I told you so’s”, thus contributing to the toxic atmosphere; maybe.
  2. The industry should look very closely at any ensuing discussions of where ODAs go since an attack on ODAs has the potential to cascade into attacks on all other forms of Delegation such as DERs, DARs, Aviation Medical Examiners, Designated Pilot Examiners, Designated Mechanic Examiners, and more.

If all the ADs issued against TC products (issued without ODAs) has rightly, not resulted in actions to eliminate the CAA system, perhaps that level of objectivity should be fairly applied in this instance; don’t throw out the baby with the bath water…just sayin'….

Finally, a last parting sarcastic observation: Some famous persons have been quoted as saying “Don’t waste a Crisis” commonly applied to economic or diplomatic crises that can be exploited to advance political agendas. Corporately, I have observed years of CEOs in the aviation community who, when faced with their own managerial issues have found solace in external crisis’ that can conveniently be applied as the causal reasons for their firm’s doldrums. The Max has thus found expression in Annual reports and Board Rooms as the latest whipping boy. Next up: When that gets exhausted the corona virus will blamed for every malaise.

There, I said it and I meant it, and my spleen is now in its proper place.

Over ‘n Out

Roy ‘Royboy’ Resto

1 A Proposal To Respond To The ODA Perception Mess—B737 Max8–2019 #6

2 UL As An Historical Model For Replacing ODA If Congress Stops That Authority-Comments On The Negroni Commentary

3 Commentary: Get Boeing and the FAA out of the air safety inspection process

Posted By Roy Resto | 2/3/2020 9:30:30 AM

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