What You Need To Know About The Aircraft Safety And Certification Reform Act

Over the last year, in the wake of the 737 MAX crisis, the US government has been considering ways to reform the aviation safety process. Today, a bill has been presented to the US senate known as the “Aircraft Safety and Certification Reform Act of 2020.” Here’s what you need to know about the act.

Boeing 737 MAX grounded Getty Images
This bill was prompted by investigations and advocacy from interest groups since the 737 MAX crisis. Photo: Getty Images

What the act does

In short, the bill will address the following issues:

  • Mandating direct Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval of manufacturers’ engineers acting on behalf of the FAA, the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) unit members, and rescission of additional FAA authority to allow self-certification
  • Assigns FAA safety advisors whose role will be to communicate with and monitor ODA unit member compliance involved in the certification of large commercial airplanes and their engines
  • Require new National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) safety recommendations on flight automation, pilot response, and safety management systems for aircraft manufacturers
  • Establish whistleblower protections and fortify channels for reporting safety problems during the certification process
  • Eliminate industry-friendly panels and roll back performance incentives that do not prioritize safety in the aircraft certification process as a first and foremost goal
  • Build FAA technical capacity to address advanced technology (like automation in the cockpit) through a new Center for Excellence for flight automation and human factors; continuing education and training for inspectors and engineers on new technology; and increased funding for scientific and technical advisors

Essentially, this bill will give Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers less influence in the aircraft certification process. This bill will provide the FAA with more room to select its own trusted safety personnel over company employees– one of the biggest concerns for aviation safety advocates in the wake of the 737 MAX crisis.

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Boeing 737 MAX car park
Boeing’s influence in the MAX certification was a big concern for many aviation safety advocates and investigatory committees. Photo: Getty Images

Reforming the ODA program

The Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) is a program within the FAA. Through this program, the FAA grants the designee authority to organizations or companies. These people will then have a role when it comes to issuing certificates for new aircraft, or else any sort of testing or examinations in issuing certificates on behalf of the FAA Administrator.

These ODA holders are private persons not directly employed by the safety organization. While there is some oversight in the program, this bill enhances the FAA’s role in the program.

Boeing staff compensation getty images
New technology on aircraft will require inspectors and certification expects to learn more about these systems and become aware of the potential dangers to avoid any future MAX-like incidents. Photo: Getty Images

Protecting whistleblowers

Back in 2016, some of Boeing’s staff discussed concerns with the 737 MAX via instant messaging. However, those concerns did not make it to the FAA and did not impede the aircraft’s certification program. Now, the bill would give whistleblowers some additional protections.

The goal is to give employees concerned about the safety of a plane type additional channels and protections for reporting those concerns. Whistleblower protections will, in theory, provide more people protection from retribution for raising aircraft safety concerns.

Studying new technology

Aircraft technology is changing. Over the last few decades, automation in the cockpit has increased in more ways than one. As technology evolves, this bill will give the FAA a chance to devote more time to studying those automation systems and developing safety guidelines for them.

What You Need To Know About The Aircraft Safety And Certification Reform Act
Across multiple aircraft manufacturers, the cockpit has become more technologically advanced. Photo: Getty Images

Will this bill go into effect?

The bill has been introduced, but it will take some time before it takes effect. Other members of the federal government will likely have some concerns or changes they want to see to the legislation. Then, there will be the matter of approval from the President, any potential legal challenges, and the FAA’s implementation. So, there is no guarantee that this bill will go into effect, for now.

Nevertheless, this is a good step forward. Aviation has gotten safer over the last few decades, but also more technologically sophisticated. Now, the FAA will need to start getting acquainted with new technologies and be able to ensure that all passengers can step onboard an aircraft and know it is safe to fly.

What are your thoughts on this bill? Let us know in the comments!