Friday, June 16, 2017

Rules No Longer Rule Air Safety: After decades of mandatory rules, regulators in the U.S. and Europe are taking a more flexible, industry-friendly approach

The Wall Street Journal
By Andy Pasztor
June 15, 2017 5:14 p.m. ET

BRUSSELS—Air-safety regulation is changing dramatically on both sides of the Atlantic, increasingly shifting from mandatory rules to voluntary standards dependent on enhanced government and industry collaboration that already has seen accident rates fall world-wide.

Capping years of gradual movement toward such cooperation, the more flexible, industry-friendly approach was spelled out this week by speakers at an international aviation conference in the Belgian capital. Senior European and U.S. regulators emphasized that formal, prescriptive rules—once the bedrock of aviation oversight—are now often their last resort in confronting difficult safety issues.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration previously announced its revised enforcement principles, which rely heavily on data analyses buttressed by joint efforts with industry to anticipate and resolve hazards. But for the European Aviation Safety Agency, which has spent much of the past few years recruiting staff and reorganizing, the conference provided a prominent public platform to unveil its new philosophy.

“We are not going to rely so much in Europe on rules,” Patrick Ky, EASA executive director, told the gathering Wednesday. Instead, he said the agency is looking to benefit from safety promotion, industry consensus on technical standards and other alternate ways to ensure safety.

On Thursday, Jean-Marc Cluzeau, head of strategy for the agency, gave a presentation on some of those new plans, saying EASA is determined to “consider systematically alternatives to rule-making.”

With the proliferation of unmanned aircraft, EASA is examining ways to oversee startups, some of which have little aviation experience. Mr. Cluzeau said that requires a new strategy. “The best way to kill a new business model is to start regulating it,” he said.

At another point, Mr. Cluzeau asserted: “Maybe the best way to improve regulation is not to consider regulation.”

Airlines, plane manufacturers, equipment suppliers and other industry segments have applauded the less-confrontational approach of regulators in recent years. And aviation authorities have taken some of the credit for adopting new oversight and enforcement strategies that have produced an era of record low airline accident rates world-wide. But safety experts fret that growing traffic and long-term complacency could result in an uptick in crashes.

Many industry officials argue prescriptive rules simply aren’t able to mitigate risks because many crucial aviation technologies evolve too rapidly. Both sides, however, point to development of new FAA certification standards for general aviation and business aircraft, which go into effect this summer, as a successful example of more-nimble regulatory activity. By obtaining industry consensus and streamlining the process, the new, updated document whittled an unwieldy regulatory package of some 377 specific technical requirements down to 71 requirements.

Under the traditional system, the FAA mandated all small-plane manufacturers demonstrate the safety of seats by passing specific tests that limited how far seats could shift in a simulated crash. But “that doesn’t necessarily mean people [would] stay safe in the event of a crash” in the real world, said Gregory Bowles, vice president of policy for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

By contrast, the FAA’s new approach permits manufacturers to choose from among a range of engineering options—from various energy-absorbing materials to specialized harnesses to seat belts with built-in air bags—that “may be more effective” in protecting occupants and require less engineering work, according to Mr. Bowles

In the U.S. and Europe, it takes about four years on average from the time agency experts begin work on a specific regulation to its final adoption. In many cases, speakers at the conference agreed, that’s way too long to deal with fast-changing technologies.

One potential solution is to get regulators more deeply involved from the beginning, when companies start considering new hardware that will need to be certified by the FAA and EASA. “We have to get information early on” if industry hopes to reduce the rule-making delay, said Lirio Liu, director of the FAA’s office of rule-making.

Ms. Liu also told the conference that the FAA faces separate challenges to comply with governmentwide White House directives that for every new regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated. She said the net impact of the rule changes is intended to avoid imposing additional costs on industry. “That will be a challenge for us in the future,” Ms. Liu said.

Those restrictions are one more reason the FAA, like EASA, wants to use alternative approaches to formal rules. Ms. Liu said the agency’s revised oversight strategy is the “culmination of events that have led us” to rely less on traditional rules specifying technical solutions and more on those giving manufacturers maximum flexibility to reach performance goals.

John Duncan, the FAA’s head of flight standards, said “it’s a big cultural change within our organization,” requiring a gradual phase-in. But Mr. Duncan added that, personally, he doesn’t want “to engage in any further rule-making that’s prescriptive in nature.”

Original article can be found here:


Anonymous said...

Excellent article which shows just how the FAA and EASA are overcoming the former ways that lead to long delays in bringing safety initiatives into being. All should welcome this new approach and it is up industry to ensure safety standards are enhanced.

Anonymous said...

This makes sense. The private industry, the FAA and the NTSB all play a role in air travel safety. All have an interest in safely delivering passengers to their destination. Twenty years ago I was flying air taxi and it was the FAA telling you what you will and will not do. Don't get me wrong, I met some good reasonable people with the FAA (and a small number of jerks). But their top-down regulatory approach does seem outdated.