OIG Reports on FAA Registry Update – What Does it Mean?

OIG Reports on FAA Registry Update – What Does it Mean?

The Situation

There are changes ahead that will modernize the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) – bringing it up to date with the latest technology and security measures. One of the key updates will be to the registry system, which is vital for ensuring aircraft are legally owned, maintained, and operated.   

The deadline for the huge overhaul is now October of 2021, which doesn’t seem that far away. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently issued a 29-page report – “FAA Plans to Modernize Its Outdated Civil Aviation Registry Systems, but Key Decisions and Challenges Remain” – regarding the progress the FAA is making in order to meet the modernization mandate. 

The OIG delved into what they think the FAA needs in place to complete the required upgrade on time – their report put into question whether it could be accomplished, stating: “The Registry’s systems are outdated, and FAA has yet to develop a detailed plan for modernization.”

The FAA’s plans are not the only consideration in the timeframe though, given the Congress factor. Because “the regulations that govern aircraft registration do not reflect current technology or business practices”, modernizing the FAA’s registration system will require rulemaking by Congress, which can take some time.

A Modern System

This is a significant update to the Registry – many provisions were implemented with the Reauthorization Act of 2018 (HR 302) – which Aircraft Guaranty Corporation covered in more depth in Highlights of the 5 Year FAA Reauthorization Act.

The new registration system, Civil Aviation Registry Electronic Services (CARES), “is expected to streamline processes, allow for the submission of electronic applications and forms, improve controls, automate registration processes, and improve online data availability” according to the FAA. Its key aims are:

  • Web-based access to all public data. For the first time in history, the general public will be able to view FAA records online in real time. Currently, what isn’t already electronically maintained is held in the Public Documents Room (PDR) available for those who have access. Any electronic records are only in real time via the computers at the PDR – outside access is limited to information that is updated once daily.

The modernization mandate includes digitizing all aircraft registration documents for real-time, public and web-based access, which means phasing out the PDR at the FAA. Furthermore, using the PDR will incur a fee if the business could have been conducted by electronic means as efficiently. 

  • Automation of application services (processes and procedures). For the first time in history, the general public will also be able to file any document electronically. Most aircraft registration functions still require paper documents that are manually scanned and reviewed by Registry examiners. Digitizing and automating the registration process means the role of FAA examiners will change, becoming more high-level. 

In Order to Proceed

Detailed estimates of technical and operational requirements for the new system are vital right now – anticipating the rulemaking, cost and schedule that will be necessary to successfully complete the expansive project. Some key questions need to be answered:

What are the new components/upgrades needed in the new system? The FAA is considering: automated approvals for low-risk applications; automated verification of fraudulent or incorrect submissions; additional security controls such as crosschecking information with non-agency entities; the registry structure, including combining aircraft and airmen systems; and matters of data storage with a cloud- or server-based system.

How will the FAA fund the new system?It hasn’t been decided yet – funding modernization projects usually comes from its facilities and equipment (F&E) account, but they may be able to use money from its operations and maintenance (O&M) account. This must be decided before it becomes a part of the agency’s budget.

What rulemaking via Congress is necessary in order to proceed?The FAA will have to develop a rulemaking that revises current regulation and allows for the electronic registration of aircraft –to improve controls, strengthen requirements, and implement digital signatures and electronic payments – a complete outline of the new system is needed beforehand to know exactly what rules to change 

Now What? – The Challenges

The OIG report contained four main recommendations to the FAA. The FAA accepted and outlined a schedule for implementing them: 

  1. Develop and implement timeline for making key decisions regarding CARES by May 31, 2019. 
  2. Define desired capabilities of CARES by Dec 31, 2019
  3. Develop and implement a procedure to obtain industry feedback by Oct 31, 2019. 
  4. Develop and implement a plan for maintaining real-time access to data by June 30, 2019.

There are challenges to face though, including: the transfer of a huge amount of data (with a lot of outdated/large files) to a new system; meeting the needs of registry users – aircraft title companies, financial institutions, aircraft manufacturers, airmen, other government agencies etc. – to ensure the operation of aircraft worldwide; and addressing workforce issues arising from role changes.

The Transition & After

The OIG has concerns, but if the FAA stays on track with this schedule, they can meet the October 2021 deadline, barring delays with Congressional rulemaking. 

Updating and modernizing the new system will be a great improvement but will not fully alleviate all the pitfalls in submitting documents, electronically or not. With the extensive rules in place for filing documents, there is a good chance it won’t be done correctly without industry knowledge of FAA rules and regulations.  

Furthermore, it is paramount to know What to Look for in Owner Trustee Documents to uphold high standards for creating and maintaining the title to the aircraft. It will still be important to hire a company that knows the ins and outs of the FAA system to avoid costly errors that could take time and money to correct.

Ultimately, the changes ahead will modernize the FAA’s registry system, helping to bring the aviation industry up to date in technology and security measures. There is significant work to do, but we’re confident that every entity involved in this important endeavor will fulfill expectations. 

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