By S.L. Fuller | December 28, 2017
The U.S. welcomed a new administration into the White House in 2017. With it came a new secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, alongside structural changes the FAA had needed to make for years. Add to that impending mandate deadlines and evolving rules on disruptive technologies — and recently helicopters themselves — and it’s apparent that the industry likely experienced the beginning of long-term transformation. You can find these highlights and more in R&WI's January 2018 issue.
In March, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration published its plan for the fiscal year 2018 budget. In the FAA’s section was an item that has been stirring up the aviation industry as a whole before March and ever since: the “privatization” of air traffic control.
The White House proposed a multi-year reauthorization initiative to take ATC out of the FAA’s control and into an “independent, non-governmental organization.” Trump and Chao officially announced the initiative in June, outlining a self-financing co-op. This drew backlash from a number of associations and other entities, including Helicopter Association International. HAI’s main concern is that the White House’s proposal could give airlines too much power and diminish the rotorcraft industry’s already small voice.
The FAA did restructure in 2017, though, and it had nothing to do with privatization. Both the agency’s Aircraft Certification Service and Flight Standards Service were overhauled in the U.S.’s summer months. These were, according to the FAA, driven by the agency’s inability to keep up with technology.
In July, after more than a year of working, the FAA adopted a functional alignment of certification activities. A significant result of that alignment was that the FAA’s Transport, Small Airplane, Engine and Propeller and Rotorcraft directorates — which oversaw certification and manufacturing of aircraft and products in those categories — went away. Taking the place of the directorates will be the new Compliance & Airworthiness Division (bearing the organizational designator AIR-700). That division will be headed by Lance Gant, formerly the manager of the Rotorcraft Directorate. However, that division will not inherit the former directorates’ manufacturing oversight responsibilities, which will fall under the new System Oversight Division (AIR-800) headed by Jeff Duven. Duven formerly was manager of the Transport Airplane Directorate.
In August, the FAA detailed plans to reorganize oversight of flight operations, airmen certification, aircraft maintenance and training. Instead of relying on a decentralized organization model for flight standards — as it did for 30 years — the FAA said it would change flight standards to a functionally based service, much like the overhauled certification service. According to FAA documents, Flight Standards’ eight regional offices and 100 or so local ones will be replaced by offices organized under four divisions: the Air Carrier Safety Assurance Office, the General Aviation Safety Assurance Office, the Safety Standards Office and the Foundational Business Office. Those divisions will be led by directors, who will report to the executive director of the Flight Standards Service.
Just like the FAA realized technology was outpacing its operations, the FAA realized technology was outpacing its rotorcraft certification standards. So, in a November Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FAA revealed its plans to change Part 27 and Part 29 certification standards. This is similar to the FAA’s December 2016 issuance of the new Part 23 rule for small general aviation aircraft. (The FAA has also opened the door to the “flying car” community to use Part 23 as a certification vehicle.) Pointing out that rotorcraft certification standards were penned in 1964, the FAA said the motivation for rewriting the rules is technology. This is particularly evident in the agency’s plans to write new standards for automatic guidance and flight control systems.
Who will be advising the FAA and all this activity? Not anyone with recent work in the rotorcraft industry.
At the end of September, the FAA welcomed seven new members to its Management Advisory Council. This included people with backgrounds in airlines, government, investment and unmanned aircraft systems. Yes, one of the new members is Brian Wynne, CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. The seven joined a group of incumbent members who are representatives of the government, the U.S. Air Force, air traffic control, cargo airlines, airports and outer space.
It’s hard to speak of 2017 regulatory highlights without talking about two significant impending mandates. Although the deadlines have not yet occur, the FAA (and R&WI) spent a fair amount of time in 2017 talking about the agency’s 2018 mandate for flight data monitoring in air ambulance helicopters and, of course, the 2020 ADS-B Out mandate. The deadlines aren’t being pushed back and it is time to equip.