Among its responsibilities for aviation safety, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues thousands of certificates and approvals annually. These certificates and approvals, which FAA bases on its interpretation of federal standards, indicate that such things as new aircraft, the design and production of aircraft parts and equipment, and new air operators are safe for use in the national airspace system. Past studies and industry spokespersons assert that FAA's interpretations produce variation in its decisions and inefficiencies that adversely affect the industry. GAO was asked to examine the (1) extent of variation in FAA's interpretation of standards for certification and approval decisions and (2) views of key stakeholders and experts on how well these processes work. To perform the study, GAO reviewed industry studies and reports and FAA documents and processes; convened a panel of aviation experts; and interviewed officials from various industry sectors, senior FAA officials, and unions representing FAA staff.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Transportation||1. To ensure that FAA actions contribute to more consistent decisions and more efficient certification and approval processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FAA to determine the effectiveness of actions to improve the certification and approval processes by developing a continuous evaluative process and use it to create measurable performance goals for the actions, track performance toward those goals, and determine appropriate process changes. To the extent that this evaluation of agency actions identifies effective practices, consider instituting those practices agency wide.|
|Department of Transportation||2. To ensure that FAA actions contribute to more consistent decisions and more efficient certification and approval processes, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FAA to develop and implement a process in Flight Standards to track how long certification and approval submissions are wait-listed, the reasons for wait-listing them, and the factors that eventually allowed initiation of the certification process. Use the data generated from this process to assess the extent of wait-listing delays and to reallocate resources, as appropriate, to better meet demand.|