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May 01, 2005

Insane Bureaucracy.

Something that perhaps TEBAF Margot might be willing to explain to us ? Quite how apparently well meaning regulations on airworthiness could become the most god awful nightmarish cock-up which will cripple European aviation in the decades ahead. It will, for example, bring to a full stop any research into new technologies, to the obvious detriment of Airbus...and yes, I write as one who supplies that august company and if these rules are  held to as written, will have to stop doing so.

Christopher Booker lays out part of it in today’s Telegraph:

Last month I was able to report that, after a meeting, Dr Norbert Lohl, the EASA's certification director, signed the airworthiness certificate for Lindstrand's aerostats, including the winch, and he could now re-enter the market. But immediately the CAA came up with a new problem: he had to get DOA approval for the makers of the winch and the software which controls it.

In other words, it was now necessary to show that the two firms responsible for the winch were competent to build a safe product, even though they had already demonstrated this, by contributing to a product itself certified as safe. The problem is there is no way a company which makes huge, 14-ton general purpose winches can qualify as a specialist aviation design company, as the rules require. The same applies to the computer firm which designed the software.

It emerges that the new rules have placed as many as 85 specialist UK firms in a similar predicament. Peter Smith, whose Berkshire firm designs entertainment systems for many of the world's most expensive private jets, cannot see how to comply with rules which require all the companies he deals with to obtain DOA approval, many of which are not prepared to submit to all the costs and bureaucratic hassle involved.

The full regulations on DOAs are here. The killer part is in 21A.239 and following:

21A.303 Compliance with applicable requirements
The showing of compliance of parts and appliances to be installed in a type-certificated product shall be made:
(a) In conjunction with the type-certification procedures of Subpart B, D or E for the product in which it is to be
installed; or
(b) Where applicable, under the ETSO authorisation procedures of Subpart O; or
(c) In the case of standard parts, in accordance with officially recognised Standards.

To take it out of legalese and bureaucratese. If you are going to make something that flies around, you have to get an airworthiness certificate. Fine, none of us wants planes falling on our head. If you make a part for a plane, this must also be certified......not so fine, for there is already a perfectly good system that does this. It’s called the manufacturer checking his parts suppliers. Both Boeing and Airbus (and everyone else) have hurdles that a parts supplier must leap over before they can supply.

Where the system goes seriously wrong is that any organisation which provides parts to either the main contractor (for example, Lindstrat above) or to a manufacturer of sub assemblies (the winch manufacturer)  must themselves be certified. Yes, that’s right, not just the part itself but the manufacturer.

So if there are 5,000 sub-contractors who each make a tiny part (and yes, aerospace does work this way, hundreds of companies supply the main contractors, each of them having hundreds of supppliers) then all of those companies need to have certification. A hugely expensive undertaking, one which only companies that actually rely upon aerospace business will be willing to undertake. So, for example, if an aerospace manufacturer wants to buy five gidgets per seat (perhaps to hold the cloth on the seat) he cannot go to the gidget manufacturer who makes 5 billion a year for every car seat in Europe. No, he has to go to one willing to go through the certification process. A great way to make the industry competetive, eh?

Now, there is a get out clause in the above. That parts which accord with standards do not have to be so checked. There are DIN, BSI and so on standards for all sorts of things and someone manufacturing to these standards does not need to get the certification. That’s fine and sensible.

But, what are the things that do not have standards? Yes, you’ve got it, new products. Obviously, if they’re new, no one has written a standard for them yet. So any form of new product, (even a nut or bolt, a seat cover, in theory, the coffee machine or the loo roll holder) can only come from a company that has gone through the very expensive process of registering for DOA approval.

Think this through for a moment from my particular position. We supply two experimental products to research teams inside Airbus. One is a master alloy being tested for the manufacture of wing surfaces. The other is a new type of weld wire. There are no standards for these types of things, as they are new. The alloys are, respectively, some 6 years into and three years into testing as to whether they are suitable, indeed airworthy, for use in aeroplanes. This is good, people have made parts, jumped up and down on them, sprayed them with acids, salt water, ice, aged them, hit them with hammers, checking to see that they really will act as we all think they will in the long term. No problems with that.

But these new regulations mean that if they pass those tests, if legions of dour and serious Bavarian engineers agree that they would indeed be better than current products (use would, if they really do work as advertised, take 2% and 10% respectively off the unladen weight of a plane), that would not be enough. My little two man company would have to spend how ever many hundreds of thousands of euros to actually supply the material. As would anyone else, of course. For the products are not standards, so everyone in the supply chain has to be certified.

Just to make it worse, there are only three suppliers of this material in the world. Only one of them regularly supplies products into the aviation industry, only one of them is large enough (and has a large enough portion of its sales to aviation) to actually pay for this process.

(If the alloy is approved, the total market will be about $1 million a year. That’s gross, not margins. Who would spend hundreds of thousands to get approval to sell into such a market, especially given the 2-4% margins available?)

The end result? The EU regulations create a monopoly for this supplier...an American company by the way...by insisting, stupidly, that it is not the product which needs to be certified, but all of those involved in the supply chain.

Hey, well done Commissioners, you’ve screwed the small company once again, limited innovation, created a monopoly and reduced the long term growth of the European economy. Aren’t you proud of yourselves? Hey, pat yourselves on the back, cash your paycheque and look forward to your pensions. And my fellow Europeans? Aren’t you just so happy to be ruled by these fools and incompetents?


May 1, 2005 in European Union | Permalink


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Really interesting stuff. A question: will the way round it in the long run be for you to ignore the rule or get it changed? I guess what I'm really asking is, how stringently do things like this get applied? My limited experience in regulation-heavy areas is that most of the stupid rules get ignored most of the time.

Tim adds: Ignoring it doesn’t really work in aerospace. Denial of the final certificate costs too much. What will probably happen (I hope) is that a certain pragmatism will kisk in, that being a DOA will only be required one or two layers down the sub-contracting chain. We’re about 5 so might escape.

Posted by: Jarndyce | May 1, 2005 11:14:36 PM

>My limited experience in regulation-heavy areas is that most of the stupid rules get ignored most of the time.


If only that were so. North and Booker have obviously been making it all up.

Posted by: Henderson | May 2, 2005 10:56:15 AM