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NATCA Aircraft Certification Members Pave Way for the Future

NATCA represents more than 700 employees in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aircraft Certification Division. The Service recently went through a major reorganization in an effort to better support the vital mission it performs. It went from four directorate systems to an organization of seven divisions, with each division dedicated to a specific function (not a geographic area). The employees in the Aircraft Certification Service are located in these seven divisions and cover all U.S. geographical regions in addition to Brussels, Belgium.

This group comprises aerospace engineers, senior engineers, program managers, flight test pilots, aircraft certification and other specialists. The offices assist with design approval and certificate management; U.S. production approvals; engineering and analysis questions; investigating and reporting of aircraft accidents, incidents, and service difficulties; as well as Organizational Delegation Authorization (ODA) and Designated Engineering Representatives (DER) oversight. The Service is also responsible to evaluate and validate the certification of all manner of aircraft that are certificated by the foreign authors of other countries so that those same aircraft can be brought to the United States. Currently, Aircraft Certification Offices (ACOs) and Offices for the other Divisions are located in Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Wichita, Kan.

NATCA aircraft certification bargaining unit employees (BUEs) were involved in a number of projects last year, including the joint certification by the FAA and European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) of the Pilatus PC-24, the assessment of a German powerglider, the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, and the 747 Firebombers.

 

  • The Pilatus PC-24 is a twin-engine business jet. It is an upgrade of the Pilatus single-engine, turboprop PC-12 (also jointly certified through NATCA aircraft certification BUEs and their European counterparts). The aircraft was first revealed to the public in 2013 and its maiden flight took place in 2015. After hundreds of hours of test flights, the PC-24 received EASA and FAA type certification on Dec. 7, 2017 and the first customer delivery took place this month.
  • Aircraft certification members also assessed airworthiness in conjunction with foreign authorities for a German powerglider (Stemme AG Model Stemme S10-VT gliders) last year out of Wichita. The FAA must still issue approval for the powerglider.
  • In addition, aircraft certification members evaluated the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus (a 767 aircraft that has been turned into a tanker). Any time an aircraft is modified, you have to show that regulations are met on anything that has changed. The first 18 combat-ready aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force in early 2018 under the terms of the development contract.
  • Aircraft certification members also certified the 747 Firebombers used to fight the fires in California last year.

While the examples above are some of the big projects many NATCA members may be aware of, they are just some of the hundreds of projects NATCA members in the unit have worked on. In the past, Aircraft Certification Service members also certified the 747 and DC-10 Firebombers, as well as many of the aircraft you see on the news that are used to fight fires in California and elsewhere every year.

According to Los Angeles Certification Office Vice President and National Representative for the NATCA AIR unit Scott Odle, the bargaining unit is responsible not just for small and large aircraft and helicopters, but is involved in certifying everything from blimps to non-powered gliders. Under Federal Air Regulations (FAR), there are various rules for small and large aircraft and helicopters. There are also regulations, or ways of creating regulations, to evaluate the airworthiness of other types of aircraft.

“There aren’t always detailed regulations (like there are for large Transport Aircraft) you can go look up for blimps or gliders, these have to sometimes be developed based on the project,” said Odle. “The regulations cover everything from design and construction to flight testing. The Aircraft Certification Service is responsible for all of this.”

Today, many projects also employ technology that go beyond current regulations. These regulations are just the starting point. The Aircraft Certification Service and its Policy and Innovation division also develop and work closely with manufacturers to create regulations and policy that cover new and novel technologies being developed and integrated into aircraft by manufacturers today.

Looking to the future, there are many unique challenges ahead. Unique aircraft, such as the Virgin Galatic aircraft/spacecraft. AIR and its Policy and Innovation Division may have a lot of work ahead as it looks at this. In addition, companies like Boeing, Cessna, Gulfstream, as well as many other small and large companies continually upgrade existing aircraft and the technology they employ, as well as develop new models. AIR will be involved with these companies on all of those developments.