Budget Request Highlights FAA Certification Backlog

FAA building
Credit: Eric Baradat / AFP / Getty Images

A portion of the requested boost in fiscal 2024 funding for FAA’s Aviation Safety (AVS) division targets mandates stemming from 2020’s aircraft certification reform legislation, but budget details released March 13 spotlight how far behind the agency is on routine tasks.

The fiscal 2024 bill requests $1.7 billion for AVS—a 7% increase over the current year’s enacted total—as part of an overall $19.8 billion budget, including non-discretionary airport grants. Permanent full-time positions (FTPs) would rise to 7,897, an increase of 125 positions. Most of these are designated to help tackle a mounting workload of various certification and oversight tasks, budget documents submitted to lawmakers to justify the FAA’s request show.

“As of January 2023, there are 224 applicants awaiting to start the certification process for operators and other certificate holders,” the documents said. “While there are multiple contributing factors, resource capacity plays a critical role in the ability to timely process these applications. While the time to complete each certification varies dependent on the complex nature of the applicant, the average time to complete a typical, non-complex, single-pilot operator certification under Part 135 is over 10 months.”

FAA’s detailed request includes 55 FTPs for Flight Standards, 14 for Aerospace Medicine, two for accident investigation, and one for the office of rulemaking. All are expected to address existing demand. 

Another 50 positions would go towards complying with the 2020 law, including 33 FTPs in Aircraft Certification, 16 for the Office of Accident Prevention & Investigation and one in the Office of Quality, Integration & Executive Service.

“These positions include systems engineers, safety inspectors, data scientist, test pilots, and program analysts,” the documents said.

While the FAA was facing a certification backlog before 2020, the new mandates and FAA’s more deliberate approach to certain projects are contributing to longer product-approval timelines. Southwest Airlines has said it expects to need at least six months from first deliveries of the yet-to-be-certified Boeing 737-7 variant to get it into revenue service. The primary driver is the time needed to get FAA approvals for everything from new manuals to ETOPS certification.

FAA also pointed to a shifting general-aviation pilot population as an area demanding more resources.

“An aging general aviation pilot population has led to an increased number of medical conditions reported on applications that require monitoring, commonly from four to six health conditions,” the FAA said. “On the other end of the age spectrum, the 16-25-year-old population entering the educational system to become tomorrow’s professional pilots have a high incidence of treated mental health conditions,” the agency added. “These case files require extensive review and neuropsychological evaluations, which contributes to a backlog in medical certifications. The highly trained professionals who review these cases are logging a record number of overtime hours to keep pace, and we do not anticipate this workload diminishing over time.”

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.