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Airlines, Pilots, Aircraft Makers Look to Ease FAA Permitting Backlog

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Pompeo, who introduced the House bill, said the legislation would help speed the replacement of the current patchwork of regulations that oversees small aircraft and their pilots, which wasn’t created in unison.

Aircraft manufacturers, airlines and pilot groups are hoping congressional action will help speed up Federal Aviation Administration certification processes for aircraft, operators and repair stations, all severely backlogged as tight budgets have kept staffing thin.

More than 1,000 certifications are backed up at the FAA, according to the agency’s inspector general office, causing big headaches for aircraft manufacturers and others who depend on quick decisions by regulators to conduct their day-to-day business.

The agency “lacks an effective method to prioritize new certifications for air operators and repair stations,” Jeffrey Guzzetti, the FAA assistant inspector general for aviation audits, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation last week as it held a hearing on the agency’s efforts to streamline its certification processes.

Instead, the FAA handles applications on a first-come, first-served basis.

“As a result, many applicants may be significantly delayed if more complex certifications are ahead of them,” Guzzetti said.

That’s left a big backup. Guzzetti’s office told the subcommittee that the FAA had more than 1,000 applications pending for certifications of new air operators, new aircraft and repair stations.

More than 130 had been waiting for more than three years, and at least one has been waiting for seven years.

The problem was exacerbated by last month’s 16-day government shutdown. While thousands of safety-critical employees, such as air traffic controllers were kept on the job, safety inspectors and certification specialists were furloughed, slowing down an already lengthy wait by more than half a month.

A bill that sailed through the House (HR 1848) by a 411-0 vote in July aims to combat those delays. Spurred by small aircraft manufacturers who are worried about the slow writing of new certification rules for their industry, the bill would set a deadline of the end of 2015 for the FAA to complete its final rule-making on regulations governing small-airplane certifications.

The Senate amended the House legislation last month by substituting the text of its companion bill (S 1072) which would set a deadline of Dec. 15, 2015, for completion of the new regulations. That bill was then passed by unanimous consent and is awaiting further House action.

Industry advocates say implementing a simplified regulatory structure for the FAA will be critical if the agency is to keep up with the growth of airplane manufacturers, one of the nation’s most robust manufacturing industries and a critical cornerstone of the export sector.

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