The Special Committee found that the FAA’s aircraft certification process was followed by the FAA and Boeing in the certification of the 737 MAX 8, in 2016.

Expert Panel Suggests Changes to FAA Certification

Jan. 16, 2020
A special, U.S. Dept. of Transportation commission finds the existing standards worked for the 737 MAX, but recommends greater emphasis on aircraft Safety Management Systems.

An independent panel of aviation and safety experts commissioned by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation issued 10 recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration, in response to allegations that the agency's product certification procedures failed in the case of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

The Special Committee to Review the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aircraft Certification Process was established in April 2019 Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to review the certification process, evaluate potential enhancements to the system, and make recommendations to bolster aviation safety.

The 737 MAX has been Boeing's best-selling aircraft, but the program is on hold as Boeing waits for the FAA and other aviation safety agencies approve a revised flight-control software. Boeing has halted deliveries of new 737 MAX aircraft and more than 300 of the twin-engine, narrow-body jets are idled for airlines around the world, in response to two fatal crashes between October 2018 and March 2019.

The Special Committee found that the FAA’s aircraft certification process was followed by the FAA and Boeing in the certification of the 737 MAX 8 — a point of much debate and disagreement in recent weeks — but that there are multiple opportunities for improvement.

The Committee emphasized that FAA’s certification process, established by Congress and governed by regulation, is effective but that reforms "must be adopted to help our extremely safe aviation system become even better at identifying and mitigating risk."

A critical point of the report is that FAA certification programs should give greater emphasis to aircraft Safety Management Systems.  “(U)nlike the current certification system’s focus on compliance, Safety Management Systems (SMS) foster a holistic assessment of whether the combinations of actions — such as design, procedures, and training — work together to counter potential hazards.”

Other findings and recommendations presented in the report call for:
  Expansion of System Safety Assessments (SSA), which are an essential component of safety risk management;
  Expansion of the FAA’s global engagement and influence;
  Better data gathering and utilization;
  Closer and more specified coordination among the different FAA offices engaged in the certification process;
  Aggressive development of the FAA workforce to meet evolving industry needs;
  Continued use and enhancement of the FAA’s system of delegation within the certification process;
  Clarification and updating of the FAA’s policies with respect to amended type certificates;
  Continued focus on the FAA’s innovation efforts to support new entrants and the further implementation of performance-based regulations;
  Review and action on recent recommended actions from industry-government advisory committees and government oversight agencies to enhance the safety and efficiency of the certification process.

The Special Committee's report is available for download.

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