The biggest challenge facing smaller American aerospace companies is waiting; response times needed for FAA approvals, according to Aspen Avionics CEO John Uczekaj, can paralyze small businesses.
Uczekaj joined executives from Royal Aircraft Services and Ascension Air to testify before the House Committee on Small Business on behalf of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) regarding the FAA’s impact on small businesses.
According to the Aspen Avionics CEO, his company — which was founded in 2004 — has focused on providing flat panel displays, three dimensional terrain awareness and other technologies to the lower end of the General Aviation (GA) industry at affordable prices. But the company is one of many facing challenges to bring its products to the market because of delays in the FAA approval process.
“Each week, small aerospace businesses like Aspen are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars due to approval delays from the FAA. When a small business begins the process of developing a certified product it must submit to a sequencing process by the FAA for certification projects. The process is unpredictable and often results in increased product development times and costs as companies develop the product and wait for the FAA to apply resources,” said Uczekaj.
Uczekaj’s comments echoed the views expressed by the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) October hearing before the House subcommittee on aviation regarding the FAA’s ability to certify new technologies and aircraft components. According to the OIG, the FAA’s inability to prioritize new certifications leads to significant delays and has created a backlog of certification applications that could impact its ability to implement NextGen, the modernization of the nation’s air traffic system.
In October, Aspen was forced to cut 13 of its employees due to unplanned increased costs associated with the certification of one of its products, according to Uczekaj. The Aspen Avionics CEO called on the FAA to make more use of the Designated Engineering Representative (DER) program, which allows the agency to leverage certification responsibility to approved experts at companies such as Aspen Avionics and others.
“Delegation to companies like Aspen that have invested in experienced and industry-respected DER resources is a viable answer for our businesses and the FAA. We encourage the FAA to make more consistent use of this very valuable tool to ensure safety and the viability of innovative small businesses in aviation,” said Uczekaj.