Aircraft Certification:

Limited Progress on Developing International Design Standards

RCED-92-179: Published: Aug 20, 1992. Publicly Released: Sep 21, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) certification of commercial aircraft and its coordination with foreign aviation authorities, focusing on: (1) the benefits of common international certification standards and practices; (2) the development of such standards and practices; and (3) the relationships between authorities and manufacturers in the United States and Europe.

GAO found that: (1) the current aircraft certification process is inefficient and raises manufacturers' and users' costs because of different interpretations of regulations by FAA and the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) of Europe, which impose additional requirements and duplicate certification activities; (2) regulatory resources spent on duplicate activities could be used to address other safety issues; (3) common standards and practices would lower costs and increase safety; (4) statutory obligations and differing experiences or concerns lead to differences in regulations; (5) FAA and JAA have accomplished little in eliminating differences and duplication because they have not formulated a focused strategy or specific procedures to coordinate certification, and JAA has concentrated more on eliminating differences between its own members; (6) to improve harmonization, FAA has proposed, and JAA has concurred in, the development of a strategic plan establishing specific objectives and time frames, and a new certification approach; (7) the relationships between certifying authorities and manufacturers in the United States and Europe differ in the charging of users' fees, the use of manufacturers' employees to do certification tests, the involvement of manufacturers in the rulemaking process, and the use of cost-benefit analyses of regulations; and (8) other factors, such as FAA alacrity in issuing regulations and its use of its regulation advisory committee, may also affect harmonization activities.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA plans to provide information on the progress of the harmonization plan in its fiscal year 1993 annual report. This report was signed by the FAA Administrator on March 8, 1994. As of August 1994, FAA and the European Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) had identified 77 key regulatory differences and resolved over 40 of them. FAA and JAA have also developed a strategic plan prioritizing these differences and establishing specific timeframes for resolution.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the recent momentum in the harmonization effort results in the identification and resolution of regulatory differences and avoidance of duplication between FAA and JAA early in the aircraft certification process, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to monitor and annually report to the Secretary on the progress achieved relative to time frames established in the strategic plan and make programmatic changes as needed to ensure that the plan results in the resolution of regulatory differences.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAA and Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) developed concurrent, cooperative certification procedures in order to eliminate unnecessary duplication and establish a common certification basis at the outset of a program during the certification of the Boeing 777 in May 1995. These new certification procedures were also used in the certification of the Airbus 340. FAA and JAA are continuing their efforts to resolve industry concerns regarding the procedures. FAA and JAA meet each year to address these concerns and other harmonization activities. This effort is an ongoing, never-ending process.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that the recent momentum in the harmonization effort results in the identification and resolution of regulatory differences and avoidance of duplication between FAA and JAA early in the aircraft certification process, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to develop specific mechanisms, such as joint teams, to coordinate certification activities with JAA and prevent unnecessary duplication and late interpretational differences in certifying a transport airplane design.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FAA does not plan to take the recommended action. Rather, the Department of Transportation will evaluate ARAC's benefits to ensure that it provides necessary and effective input commensurate with costs incurred.

    Recommendation: When submitting the Department's proposal to Congress for rechartering the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FAA, to report on: (1) the results achieved through ARAC; (2) the problems encountered during its implementation; (3) FAA actions taken to overcome the problems; (4) effect of ARAC on FAA/JAA harmonization activities; and (5) the impact of ARAC on the FAA rulemaking process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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