Aviation Investigation Report A98H0003

IFEN – FAA Certification and Delegation Process

  1. Background
  2. Designated Alteration Station
  3. STC Application and Approval Process
  4. STC Roles and Responsibilities
    1. Aircraft Certification Office
    2. Manufacturing Inspection District Office
    3. Aircraft Evaluation Group
  5. DAS Oversight Function
  6. Aircraft Certification Systems Evaluation Program
  7. Santa Barbara Aerospace
    1. SBA/ACO Relationship
    2. FAA Oversight of SBA
      1. LAACO Engineering Evaluation of SBA
      2. FAA ACSEP Evaluation of SBA

Background

The IFEN system modification of the Swissair MD-11 aircraft was accomplished under the authority of the Swiss FOCA. The FOCA's acceptance was based on the FAA's STC ST00236LA-D. An FAA-approved STC can be accepted by the FOCA under the terms of two bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the US: the Bilateral Airworthiness Agreement, signed 13 October 1961; and the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement, signed 26 September 1996.

Designated Alteration Station

In 1965, the FAA established a delegation structure that authorized eligible, private-sector organizations to perform certification services on behalf of the FAA. The DAS is not delegated authority in areas that are reserved for FAA approval. DAS certificate holders are appointed and monitored through a regional ACO. The LAACO was responsible for appointing and monitoring SBA, the DAS responsible for the IFEN STCs installed in the Swissair MD-11 and B-747 fleets.

To be eligible to become a DAS, a company must

  • be an authorized repair station under the 14 CFR, Part 145; an authorized air carrier under the 14 CFR, Part 121; or an authorized manufacturer of a product for which it has alteration authority under the 14 CFR, Part 43.3(i);
  • have adequate maintenance facilities and personnel in the US to operate and maintain the products under its certificate;
  • employ or have available a staff of engineering, flight-test, and inspection personnel who can determine compliance with the applicable airworthiness requirements; and
  • employ at least one staff member (referred to as the DAS Coordinator) who possesses
    • a thorough working knowledge of the applicable requirements,
    • the authority to establish alteration programs that ensure altered products meet the applicable requirements,
    • at least one year of satisfactory experience in direct contact with the FAA while processing engineering work for type certification or alteration projects,
    • at least eight years of aeronautical experience, and
    • the general technical knowledge and experience necessary to determine that altered products of the types for which a DAS authorization is requested are in condition for safe operation.

Each DAS applicant must prepare an FAA-approved DAS manual that complies with the requirements contained in the FAR, Part 21, Subpart M, Section 21.441.

The FAA-approved DAS manual must contain

  • procedures for issuing STCs;
  • the names, signatures, and responsibilities of officials and of each staff member; and
  • the identity of those persons with the authority to perform the following tasks:
    • Make changes to procedures that require a revision to the DAS manual,
    • Conduct conformity and compliance inspections,
    • Approve inspection reports,
    • Prepare or approve data,
    • Plan or conduct tests,
    • Approve the results of tests,
    • Amend airworthiness certificates,
    • Issue experimental certificates,
    • Approve changes to operating limitations of Airplane Flight Manuals, and
    • Sign supplemental type certificates.

A DAS appointment remains in effect until it is either surrendered by the DAS or it is suspended, revoked, or otherwise terminated by the FAA.

STC Application and Approval Process

The DAS must follow the certification procedures contained in FAA Order 8110.4A, which was subsequently replaced by FAA Order 8110.4B. This order prescribes the responsibilities and procedures for FAA aircraft certification personnel responsible for the certification process required by the FARs for civil aircraft, aircraft engines, and propellers. The type certification process described in FAA Order 8110.4A applies to type certificates, amended type certificates, and STCs.

An STC is issued for major design changes to type-certified products when the change is not extensive enough to require a new type certificate. To request an STC, the applicant submits an STC application (FAA Form 8110-12) to the responsible ACO. The ACO assigns each new STC project a number and a manager, and notifies the accountable directorate.

To obtain STC approval from the FAA, an applicant must demonstrate compliance with the applicable certification requirements for the aircraft. It is the applicant's responsibility to develop and provide the required data.

The FAA will issue an STC when all of the following requirements are met:

  • All pertinent technical data have been examined and found satisfactory.
  • All necessary tests and compliance inspections have been completed.
  • The alteration conforms with the technical data.
  • The FAA determines that the design change meets the applicable regulations.

A DAS is authorized to evaluate and approve STC applications and issue STCs on behalf of the FAA in accordance with FAA Order 8110.4A and other FAA requirements. Procedures for evaluating and approving STCs are outlined in the DAS manual. Prior to issuing an STC, however, the DAS must provide the following information to the ACO:

  • The type of design change, including any novel or significant features;
  • The applicable airworthiness requirements;
  • The proposed methods for meeting the applicable requirements, including ground- and flight-test requirements;
  • A determination by the DAS that the applicant has met each applicable airworthiness requirement;
  • Indication that the DAS is satisfied that the type of product for which the STC is to be issued, as modified by the supplemental type design data upon which the STC is based, is properly designed for safe operation; and
  • A list of manuals to be issued or revised.

The DAS submits this information to the ACO in an LOI outlining the scope of the project.[1] Within 30 days of issuing the STC, the DAS administrator must submit the following information to the ACO:

  • Two copies of the STC;
  • One copy of the design data approved by the DAS and referred to in the STC;
  • One copy of each inspection and test report;
  • Two copies of each revision of the AFM or of the operating limitations; and
  • Any other information necessary for safe operation of the product.

STC Roles and Responsibilities

The FAA's STC responsibilities are managed at the directorate level by the ACO. The ACO is responsible for identifying the scope of the certification project and for designating and organizing the appropriate FAA resources (e.g., the MIDO, the AEG, etc.) to ensure that the STC applicant has demonstrated compliance with the applicable regulations.

Aircraft Certification Office

All STC projects are reviewed by the ACO. Depending on the complexity of the project, the ACO may require the assigned FAA team to conduct a coordinated review process.

In addition to conducting an FAA engineering compliance evaluation, the ACO's review of the LOI involves FAA MIDO and AEG specialists.

Manufacturing Inspection District Office

The MIDO is an organization within the Aircraft Certification Service. In fulfillment of its responsibilities, the MIDO

  • conducts airworthiness certification of civil aircraft, engines, propellers, parts, and appliances;
  • approves production and conducts surveillance of aviation manufacturing facilities;
  • supports FAA engineering personnel during type certification programs;
  • investigates enforcement reports of non-compliance to the FAR; and
  • investigates service difficulties.

The MIDO provides these services primarily through conformity inspections. A conformity inspection is required to ensure that the product and the installation to be certified complies with the type design. In the case of an STC, the MIDO provides the required conformity inspections at the request of FAA engineering personnel. It is the responsibility of FAA manufacturing inspectors, designated manufacturing inspection representatives, or designated airworthiness representatives to determine whether the product conforms with drawings, specifications, and special processes. An FAA conformity inspection should be successfully conducted before any official FAA tests (ground or flight) are conducted.

Aircraft Evaluation Group

FAA Order 8110.4A states that AEG personnel are co-located within each directorate and are responsible to the Flight Standards Aircraft Evaluation Program staff manager. The AEG is responsible for determining operational acceptability and ensuring that maintenance requirements are met for continued airworthiness for newly certified or modified aircraft. Operations and airworthiness inspectors have the primary responsibility for evaluating the aircraft and its systems for operational suitability and continued airworthiness.

The AEG conducts operational and airworthiness evaluations in accordance with FAA Order 8110.4A, Type Certification Process. During the type certification process, the AEG analyzes the type data and participates in the aircraft certification engineering compliance inspections and flight programs. The AEG then makes recommendations to the ACO regarding operations specifications.

In fulfillment of its responsibilities, the AEG

  • evaluates operational suitability;
  • reviews the maintenance program;
  • reviews the flight manuals and revisions;
  • participates in functional and reliability testing;
  • manages the Flight Operation Evaluation Board, Flight Standard Boards, and Maintenance Review Boards; and
  • serves as a member of the Type Certification Boards and the Flight Manual Review Boards.

More specifically, FAA Order 8110.4A, Chapter 4, paragraph 27(h) states that with respect to STCs, the AEG should be involved in the areas of operational suitability and ICA of aircraft that have incorporated STC modifications that would affect operational suitability and continued airworthiness (i.e., change in crew requirements, changes in flight instrument displays, minimum equipment list relief, and changes that would affect FOEB, FSB, and MRB reports).

The scope of the AEG's responsibilities is detailed in FAA Orders 8430.21A and 1100.5B. These orders state that the Manager, Aircraft Certification Division and the Manager, Flight Standards Division of regions with directorates are jointly responsible for ensuring a close liaison between the appropriate ACO and the AEG concerning assigned type certification projects involving applications for original, supplemental, or modified aircraft type certificates. This close liaison must begin in the early stages of the type design approval program and continue throughout the service life of the aircraft. The managers must also ensure that the aircraft manufacturers and modifiers, particularly those with DAS authority, recognize that the operational evaluations conducted by the AEG are an integral part of the overall certification process and that provisions must be made for AEG personnel to have access to and participate in certain certification phases of new, modified, follow-on aircraft models. Certification and evaluation activity schedules must be coordinated between the ACO and the AEG prior to initiating an agreement with the manufacturer.

DAS Oversight Function

The FAA is responsible for supervising and monitoring DAS programs. The LAACO employs an Aviation Safety Specialist, who, along with a team of FAA engineers, inspectors, and pilots, oversees each DAS within his or her jurisdiction. This position is unique to the LAACO; other ACOs may not employ an Aviation Safety Specialist as a facilitator.

To manage a DAS, the FAA team

  • ensures that the DAS has the most current documentation (annually);
  • verifies DAS representation at Designee Standardization Seminars;
  • discusses DAS performance with authorized representatives (ongoing);
  • ensures appropriate corrective action is taken;
  • ensures that the DAS contacts the ACO prior to issuing special airworthiness certificates and participating in any type certificate or STC activities;
  • reviews the project at start and completion (ongoing);
  • ensures that the DAS coordinator communicates directly with DAS management authorities;
  • coordinates with the DAS to provide regular updates of designee activity (ongoing);
  • reviews completed project records on a sampling basis (annually);
  • witnesses the inspection of at least one completed product to ensure that satisfactory inspection techniques are being used (annually); and
  • documents all monitoring and supervision activities (ongoing).

In addition to the above activities, the FAA advises that the responsible team also

  • conducts, on a biannual basis, a systematic review of manufacturing processes and conduct an engineering inspection of at least one completed project to ensure that satisfactory certification criteria and techniques are being used;
  • participates in compliance findings in areas involving known safety-related problems; and
  • makes determinations, through ongoing liaison, in areas reserved for the FAA, such as regulatory interpretations and equivalent safety findings.

Aircraft Certification Systems Evaluation Program

The FAA's ACSEP (FAA Order 8100.7A) was chartered by the Certifications Procedures for Products and Parts, 14 CFR, Part 21. The ACSEP was developed in the mid-1990s to replace existing FAA industry audit programs that were perceived to be falling short of providing the kind of information required in the modern and sophisticated aviation industry environment. The formal incorporation of DAS facilities into the ACSEP occurred on 24 July 1997.

Unlike its predecessors, the ACSEP was designed, with industry input, to evaluate many different types of facilities using modern, consistent, and standardized evaluation criteria.

The ACSEP is used to determine whether a facility is complying with the applicable FARs and its own FAA-approved procedures. An ACSEP evaluation also assesses a facility against standardized industry practices that may not be covered by the FARs. The collection of data under the ACSEP enables the FAA to not only assess an individual facility, but also to compile the data to identify national trends that may require the development of new or revised regulations, policies, or guidelines.

Any inconsistency (known under the ACSEP as an "issue") discovered during an ACSEP evaluation is classified by its type and recorded under the subsystem under which it is noted. There are five issue types:

  1. Safety finding: an issue that compromises immediate continued operational safety.
  2. Systemic finding: a systemic issue that represents a breakdown in the quality management system; non-compliance with a FAR or with FAA-approved data.
  3. Systemic observation: systemic non-compliance with non-FAA approved facility procedures.
  4. Isolated observation: non-systemic, isolated non-compliance with a FAR or with FAA-approved data.
  5. FAR-based observation: a discovery of FAA-approved data that are inconsistent with the FARs.

There are 17 subsystems under which an issue can be further classified. Each subsystem is further divided into "criteria." The subclassification of issues into detailed criteria is designed to enable the FAA to identify specific areas of concern and allow the industry to focus corrective actions on those areas. This detailed classification system is part of the ACSEP's quality management system.

Facilities that fall under the ACSEP are categorized into two evaluation frequencies depending on the type of facility: 24 and 48 months. Delegated facilities are in the 24-month category. Evaluation frequencies can be shortened to where the FAA is confident that the facility is complying with the applicable FAR. These decisions are based on facility performance.

At the conclusion of an ACSEP evaluation, a post-evaluation conference is held with the managers of the evaluated facility at which time any issues, findings, or observations are reviewed. Any findings that require formal corrective action are followed up by the FAA. Requests for corrective action are forwarded through a Letter of Investigation. A corrective action is closed through FAA Form 8100-5, Results of ACSEP Evaluation Findings.

Santa Barbara Aerospace

SBA was eligible to become a DAS owing to its status as a repair station under the 14 CFR, Part 145, and was the holder of Air Agency Certificate S3BR755J, issued on 27 July 1994. SBA was an authorized DAS under 14 CFR, Part 21, subpart M, certificate DAS-14-NM, issued on 11 August 1994 by the FAA LAACO. In its capacity as a DAS, SBA performed certification services on behalf of the FAA in accordance with FAA Order 8110.4A and other FAA requirements.

Many SBA staff members were former employees of Elsinore Aerospace and Southern California Aviation, a subsidiary of Aerotest. These companies were also DAS certificate holders. SBA retained FAA-approved DAS staff members for the various disciplines needed to comply with the FAA-approved SBA DAS manual.

SBA had in its employ, or had available, a staff of engineers and flight-test and inspection personnel who were responsible for determining compliance with applicable airworthiness requirements. The SBA DAS Coordinator possessed all of the required qualifications defined in the FAR, Part 121, Section 21.439(b)(1) through (5).

In order to carry out its delegated duties, SBA was organized and managed in accordance with the SBA FAA-approved DAS manual. The manual is central to the DAS's ability to perform its delegated FAA duties. This manual included, but was not restricted to, the following items:

  • A listing of authorized representatives and their authorized functions, responsibilities, and limitations;
  • A description of the procedures used in performing authorized functions;
  • A sample of the forms to be used to indicate inspection acceptance or findings; and
  • Changes that require revision to the DAS manual (such as personnel changes) that must be submitted to and approved by the FAA.

SBA/ACO Relationship

Like any other DAS, SBA was considered an extension of the FAA. Through their DAS Coordinator, SBA maintained a close working relationship with the engineering and maintenance staff of the LAACO. SBA averaged 20 STC projects annually. Over time, the LAACO staff established a confidence level in SBA's ability to perform the required certification functions. The quality of certification services provided by SBA was monitored by an FAA oversight program.

FAA Oversight of SBA

In addition to the project-by-project contact between SBA and the LAACO, the FAA was responsible for conducting formal audits of the SBA. In accordance with FAA Notice N8130.68, Designee Supervision, Monitoring and Tracking, the LAACO was required to conduct a DAS engineering evaluation of SBA in order to verify that the DAS Coordinator possessed all of the required documentation and to review completed project records. The first such evaluation was conducted between 18 and 22 March 1996. This audit identified numerous areas of non-compliance with the FAR and with the FAA-approved SBA DAS manual. In response to the FAA observations, SBA was required to provide written comments to the FAA addressing the corrective action(s) to be taken.

Beyond the annual DAS engineering evaluation conducted by the LAACO, SBA was audited under the auspices of the FAA's ACSEP. The SBA's first ACSEP evaluation was conducted between 5 and 7 May 1998. The ACSEP evaluation revealed several findings and observations related to design data approval, conformity inspections, and airworthiness certification. The FAA was satisfied with the corrective action outlined by SBA to deal with the findings of the ACSEP report.

LAACO Engineering Evaluation of SBA

On 20 May 1996, the LAACO forwarded a letter to SBA outlining the FAA findings of the FAA engineering evaluation of SBA between 18 and 22 March 1996. The letter documented information that had already been discussed between the two parties at the time of the evaluation. In the FAA letter, SBA was complimented on the professional attitude of its staff, the level of cooperation the SBA staff exhibited toward the FAA, and the interest of the SBA staff in maintaining a high standard of aviation.

The FAA engineering evaluation consisted primarily of an FAA team review of the DAS-issued STC data files. The FAA team searched the SBA files to verify adherence to the FAA-approved SBA DAS manual and compliance with the applicable FARs.

The FAA team reviewed 19 SBA STCs in the course of the engineering evaluation. All 19 STCs included findings described as either "non-compliance" or "observation"; none of the findings were categorized by the FAA as posing a particular threat to flight safety. The FAA team also commented on discrepancies in the FAA-approved SBA DAS manual. Again, there were no observations that were deemed to pose a threat to flight safety.

In keeping with standard practice for such engineering evaluations, SBA was invited to provide the FAA with written comments addressing the corrective measures that SBA would undertake with regard to the instances of non-compliance and the observations. SBA forwarded its response to the FAA in a letter dated 30 December 1996. Each instance of non-compliance and observation was addressed individually. The response was either an acknowledgement or acceptance by SBA of the FAA comment, or an explanation by SBA of their original position or action with the implication that in the SBA's opinion, the original position or action was acceptable.

One observation in the FAA engineering evaluation concerning the SA9008NM-D Inflight Telephone (DC-9-82) stated the following:

No Type Inspection Authorization (TIA) was found in the data file to address the Electro Magnetic Interference (EMI) flight test that was performed.

The SBA response letter addressed this FAA observation as follows:

A TIA is only issued when the test to be conducted may have a substantial impact to the aircraft. This has been coordinated through ANM-160L (TSB note - ANM-160L is a position in the FAA LAACO Flight Test Branch). The typical "non-essential" electronics that are being installed do not impact the operation of the aircraft.

On 20 May 1997, the FAA responded by letter to the SBA submission. In this letter, the 18-22 March 1996 FAA engineering evaluation was concluded as follows:

Our staff has reviewed your responses to each of our findings and concur with your reply. This letter concludes the evaluation.

FAA ACSEP Evaluation of SBA

The FAA conducted an ACSEP evaluation of SBA between 5 and 7 May 1998, and documented their findings in a report dated 7 May 1998. The FAA team documented five findings and one observation:

  • Two of the findings were recorded in the Design Data Approval subsystem, neither of which were deemed by the FAA to pose a threat to flight safety.
  • Two findings and one observation were recorded in the Conformity Inspection subsystem. There were no findings or observations that were deemed by the FAA to pose a threat to flight safety.
  • One finding was recorded in the Airworthiness Certification subsystem. This finding was deemed by the FAA as not posing a threat to flight safety.

Two documents address the follow-up action resulting from the ACSEP evaluation. The first is a letter to the FAA from SBA dated 2 September 1998 outlining an action plan by SBA to address the ACSEP findings and observations. The second is a letter to SBA from the FAA (date-stamped 28 September 1998) acknowledging the SBA action plan. In the 28 September 1998 letter, the FAA states that the SBA action plan is acceptable, that the case can be considered closed by Letter of Correction, and that the case may be reopened in the event that the agreed corrective action is not carried out.


[1]    The term "Program Notification Letter" was introduced in FAA Order 8100.9, DAS, DOA, and SFAR 36 Authorization Procedures to replace the term "LOI."

Date modified :
2012-07-27