October 31, 2000, 12:00 a.m. Pacific
FAA certificates are a stamp of approval
by Chuck Taylor
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
In a letter to Boeing last year, Federal Aviation Administration
chief Jane Garvey wrote, "Fifty years of holding a production
certificate at Commercial Airplanes speaks to your company's high
standards of quality and safety. The FAA looks forward to working with
Boeing to maintain the production certificate for many years to come and
to continue to improve quality and safety along the way."
Boeing's FAA production certificate, designated PC-700, is steeped in
history. First issued 51 years ago, it has been amended for every new
airplane model and every new factory.
But six months after Garvey congratulated the company, FAA inspectors
were in Boeing's factories after a series of quality-control problems
came to light.
Normally, a team of inspectors would visit each Boeing plant for a
few weeks every two years. Results of such routine audits help the
handful of on-site FAA inspectors at Boeing customize their scrutiny of
the company's manufacturing.
Those few FAA inspectors supervise hundreds of "designees"
- inspectors and engineers who are employed by Boeing but who have
special FAA authority for such tasks as uncovering defects as planes are
built and certifying finished planes as airworthy.
The special audit last winter found manufacturing deficiencies that
apparently escaped the notice of the designees, the on-site FAA
inspectors and previous routine factory audits.
The special-audit inspectors interviewed designated engineers and
other engineers and found they believed that the system for approving
and implementing design changes, for example, is working.
"This belief is held even though they do not understand this
system and they do not verify to ensure the system is working,"
says the executive summary of the FAA's audit report. "The current
system is disjointed to the point that it does not positively ensure
compliance" with manufacturing standards under the company's
There are two FAA certificates necessary for Boeing to build an
The first is called a type certificate, which is approval of a
specific airplane design, based on standards of airworthiness that
include such things as redundant systems and safe performance. Every
Boeing model -737-600, 737-700 and so on - has its own type certificate.
The other is the production certificate, which is a blessing of how a
company will build a plane.
While the requirements to obtain a type certificate are spelled out
in detail, production-certificate requirements are broad. Essentially, a
company must propose how it will ensure the plane is manufactured as
designed, with inspections and documentation to prove it.
The manufacturer also must spell out how it will scrutinize
suppliers, how it will inspect parts and assemblies, how it will conduct
tests - and what paperwork all this will generate.
The FAA yesterday said Boeing had the proper plans in place but was
not always following them.
© 2000 The Seattle Times Company
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