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Budget uncertainty slows FAA certifications
March 22, 2011
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  • By Kerry Lynch

    March 17, 2011

    The ongoing series of short-term authorization extensions and an uncertain budget have prompted FAA to halt most new certification activity, says FAA Flight Standards Director John Allen.

    Speaking during the 2011 Air Charter Safety Symposium Tuesday in Washington, Allen confirmed industry reports that FAA is accepting new certification applications, but for the most part, is working only on existing certification projects. FAA also has stopped most travel and placed a freeze on most hiring, Allen says.

    “We’re waiting to find out what kind of budget we’ll have before we turn that spigot back on,” he says. Allen adds that the agency has long been under pressure to operate more like a business, but asks, “How can you operate like a business when you only have three-month budget years and a lot of friends on Capitol Hill telling you what you can and cannot do?”

    Lawmakers are expected to pass another short-term continuing resolution while they continue to hash out this year’s budget. The U.S. House of Representatives on March 15 agreed to a three-week extension (Aviation Daily, March 16). And, while progress is being made on comprehensive, long-term FAA reauthorization, another short-term extension is looming since the existing authorization extension expires at the end of the month.

    Even if a budget is passed in April, Allen notes that FAA is bracing for cuts. The House has discussed holding FAA’s budget to 2006 levels, while the Senate has looked at 2008 levels. “2008 was a tough year,” he says, adding, “We’re just being very, very careful.”

    The agency is laying the groundwork to do more with limited resources once the budget is in place, he says. This includes expanding use of designees. FAA has assembled a group to “define the processes we need to employ to use [designees] in a more robust fashion,” Allen adds.

    Limited resources and congressional mandates also have forced the agency to redirect its rulemaking activities, Allen says. He calls the Feb. 12, 2009, crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 a “watershed” accident. That crash led to last summer’s passage of a series of pilot safety mandates, which in turn has resulted in eight rulemakings, 11 studies and one database … “so far,” he says.

    The pilot safety law has “totally hijacked what we were doing on our rulemaking agenda,” Allen says. FAA had hoped to make more progress on the 125/135 Aviation Rulemaking Committee recommendations, but those initiatives have been slowed, he says. However, he adds that the Part 135 community eventually will be the benefactors of some rulemaking efforts stemming from the pilot safety mandates. Rulemakings on the whole are becoming more difficult to finalize, he says. Cost/benefit analyses traditionally focused on improvement in accident rates. “How do you show [a rule] will improve safety when there are no accidents?” he asks, adding the agency instead is shifting toward analysis of incident reductions.

    Date: 2011-03-17