U.S. Lawmakers Eye Organization Designation Authorization Revamp

Credit: Delta TechOps

The first proposed U.S. law targeting aircraft certification during the Boeing 737 MAX investigations contains some provisions that would affect the aftermarket—and, unlike much of what Congress aims at industry under the guise of needed reform, it is not all bad.

The Restoring Aviation Accountability Act, cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and unveiled Feb. 25, is U.S. lawmakers’ first effort to change perceived deficiencies spotlighted by the 737 MAX crisis. 

Changes to the Organization Designation Authorization (ODA) program—faulted for not catching issues with MAX design and pilot training that contributed to two fatal accidents in five months, followed by the model’s grounding—figure prominently in the bill. 

While the focus generated during the MAX saga has been on ODA work related to approving a new aircraft design, the aftermarket leans on ODA units as well, particularly for work linked to major repairs, alterations and airworthiness; supplemental type certification; and parts manufacturer approval—each having its own designed ODA category.

Among the bill’s ODA-related provisions: requiring the FAA to establish minimum qualifications, such as licenses or work experiences, for “members of ODA units.” Each prospective member would have “a specific field or skill code” that justifies inclusion in an ODA and would undergo training that “explains the individual’s role and responsibility and limits of authority when acting as a delegated FAA representative.”

The provision would bring competency-based training to the ODA-qualification process, something that many in the industry believe is a long-overdue shift for specialized safety-critical roles, including pilots and mechanics. “We have been advocating similar processes for years, and the International Civil Aviation Organization is looking at competency-based learning and qualifications,” says Sarah MacLeod, executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association. “This is good policy.”

The bill calls on the FAA to audit each ODA every three years. The FAA also would form a multistakeholder “commission” to “study all aspects of the ODA program” and issue recommendations for improving it.

The bill also proposes harmonizing type certification with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) regulations by incorporating operational data into type certificates (TC). EASA’s Part 21 certification regulations require operators to include critical operations data in TC applications: minimum pilot, cabin crew and mechanic training requirements, simulator-qualification data and master minimum equipment lists.

Integrating maintenance-personnel qualifications into the TC process should lead to a more direct link between training and maintenance manuals or instructions for continued airworthiness (ICA). “The qualifications for maintenance personnel have to be based upon the expectations in the ICA,” MacLeod says. 

The FAA is reworking its maintenance training requirements for Part 147 schools and plans to integrate competency-based options.

Lawmakers also propose more extensive reviews of TC applications, with special attention paid to amended TCs. An 18-member panel, including safety experts from the agency, labor and industry, would evaluate each application and determine whether, for example, a new TC is needed. Critics argue that such a panel would be feasible only if all members were well-versed in the FAA regulations as well as each applicant’s technology and processes—a tall order.

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.