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NATCA Testifying Against the FAA for the Hasty Certification of the Eclipse EA-500 at Today's House Aviation Subcommittee Hearing - (9/17/2008)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representatives from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) are testifying today on the irresponsible and inappropriate actions taken by the Federal Aviation Administration during certification of the Eclipse EA-500.

In addition to representing the nation’s air traffic controllers NATCA also represents nearly 1,700 engineers, including a unit of FAA aircraft certification engineers who ensure that aircraft are tested and safely designed in addition to investigating incidents and accidents in order to maintain the safety of certified aircraft.

NATCA is testifying against the FAA at today’s hearing – citing reasons first published in its grievance against the FAA in October 2006, which condemned the agency for its underhanded certification of the Eclipse 500.

Testifying at the hearing on behalf of the union is NATCA Aircraft Certification National Representative Tomaso DiPaolo. Both DiPaolo and NATCA President Patrick Forrey provided written testimony to the committee.

The following is a portion of NATCA President Patrick Forrey’s testimony.  For his full testimony go to: NATCA-PatForreyEclipseTestimony-FINAL.pdf

“Beginning in July 2001 there were approximately 15 engineers and five test pilots working to assess the safety of the Eclipse 500 prototype.  The process was proceeding normally, with engineers performing and overseeing a battery of tests and discovering issues to be addressed by the Eclipse Corporation.”

“According to ordinary FAA procedure, for a new aircraft to be issued a type certificate (TC), each engineer responsible for testing a unique aspect of the aircraft design must sign off on the TC – approximately eight individuals for a project this size.  These engineers are responsible for areas such as: electrical, software, and mechanical systems, structures (aircraft strength), and propulsion, while test pilots are responsible for flight testing.  On the 29th of September 2006, a Friday, engineers were asked to sign off on the TC, but due to outstanding technical and safety concerns, refused.  The following day, a Saturday that was the very last day of the fiscal year, the FAA abandoned its usual procedures, and FAA management granted the TC to eclipse with only one individual signing off.”

“Two aspects of prevailing FAA culture contributed to this breach of procedure and hasty certification of the Eclipse 500: the close relationship between the FAA and private sector aviation industry players and a business plan that rewards managers for speed rather than safety.  Both represent a deterioration of the FAA’s safety culture.”

“The inappropriately close relationship between the FAA and the private sector was brought to light when this committee investigated the failure of the FAA to conduct aircraft inspections at Southwest Airlines (SWA).  As a result of the relationship between SWA management and FAA management, the FAA failed to ground 47 aircraft that were overdue for inspection for cracks in the fuselage, and another 70 aircraft overdue for rudder inspections.  As a result, thousands of flights carrying hundreds of thousands of passengers were flown in potentially unsafe aircraft.”

“This situation has played out again with Eclipse.   Despite persistent concerns over the safety of the aircraft, FAA management signed off on the plans to manufacture, sell, and fly this aircraft without significant restrictions.  They have again shirked their responsibility as a safety organization and have opted instead to help support a corporate bottom line.”

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The following is a portion of NATCA Aircraft Certification Representative Tomaso DiPaolo’s testimony. For his full testimony, please go to:
NATCATomasoDiPaoloEclipseTestimony-FINAL.pdf

“On July 10, 2005, the FAA unilaterally imposed a new pay system and work rules on multiple NATCA bargaining units including the Aircraft Certification.  The new, non-negotiated pay system is called Core Compensation.  One aspect of this pay system is that it replaces annual step increases with Superior Contribution Increases (SCI).  These SCI increases are awarded to some individuals based on a management only assessment of their performance for the fiscal year.”

“This is problematic on a number of levels.  First, it creates a competitive work environment since there are only a fixed number of SCI increases which is not conducive to the type of teamwork required for such high level engineering projects.  Second, managers are not required to clearly justify why a particular employee was chosen or denied an SCI.  This allows managers to use subjective or in some cases inappropriate criteria for rewards or punishment.”

“In the case of Eclipse, FAA managers were able to retaliate against an employee who refused to buckle under management pressure to change their technical positions.  Third, it is our understanding that top FAA management pay is tied to the accomplishment of goals within the FAA business plan, which contains a number of non-safety items.  For example, the FY 2006 business plan contained the goal of certifying a Very Light Jet by the end of the Fiscal Year.  As pay was tied to the accomplishment of this goal, FAA engineers in the Eclipse project came under significant pressure to certify Eclipse within this time frame, despite outstanding safety concerns and the lack of demonstrated compliance to the safety regulations.”

“The FAA’s behavior during the certification of the Eclipse 500 Jet was inexcusable.  They intimidated and coerced federal employees into ignoring safety regulations. Our safety system works because of the laws and regulations that exist to protect the flying public, but it will only continue to function if those laws and regulations are followed.  The FAA must have a zero- tolerance policy with individuals that encourage non-compliance and thus put the flying public at risk.   Therefore, I would like to offer the following recommendations:

1. The FAA’s business plan needs to be refocused on safety-only mission related goals. 

Mandating a specific timeframe for certification of an aircraft creates unnecessary

pressure for speedy certification and compromises the safety and integrity of the aircraft.

2. Title 49 must be amended to allow the Union to negotiate fair and professional pay

procedures that encourage and reward compliance to the safety mission of the agency.

3. Delegation must be restricted to individuals who are reviewed and approved directly by the FAA, not using a private company as a surrogate.  Allowing a company to select the individuals who determine compliance creates a conflict of interest.”


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