The Air Carrier Certificate is considered to be the Holy Grail of airlines due to the intense application process that must be completed before the certificate is issued. It is a quest that can only be undertaken by those companies that have the dedication to pass all of the tests that the FAA will throw at it. An airline cannot legally operate within the U.S. without an Air Carrier Certificate, so obtaining it is the goal of any airline that wishes to carry either passengers or freight legally in the United States. According to the FAA, “The purpose of the certification process is to determine whether an applicant is able to conduct business in a manner that complies with all applicable regulations and safety standards and allows you to manage the hazard-related risks in your operating systems and environment (FAA, 2011, Introduction to Part 121).” For an airline that is serious about becoming a certified air carrier, the certification process will involve long hours, a mountain of paperwork, intense training and the coordination of many people and departments. There are two parties that must work together to complete the application process. One is the applicant themselves, which must create an internal team to ensure that all the necessary documentation is submitted to the proper contact at the FAA. On the FAA’s end, they will have several employees, divided into teams, assigned to work with the applicant. How quickly the certification process proceeds depends on how efficiently these two entities communicate and work together. There are three phases that must be passed through during the application process. Each phase contains a series of letters that must be written, forms that must be filled out and training and inspections that must occur. Once an applicant has successfully made it through all three gates the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, will issue the applicant the coveted Air Carrier Certificate.
During the first phase of the application process the applicant must pass through the formal application process. To begin the process, the applicant must submit a request for a Formal Application Meeting at least 45 days prior to the day they wish the meeting to occur. Submitted with the request should be a formal application letter, a Completed Management Qualification Summary Form and Quality Audit Form, a list of proposed operations specifics (OpSpecs), an up to date Application Statement of Intent (PASI) and a proposed Schedule of Events (SOE). Once the FAA has the application and all of the required forms, they will begin to familiarize themselves with the companies operations and will set up accounts for them in their databases. Personnel will be assigned to the case to oversee the application process to its end. When the formal meeting occurs, the FAA will evaluate the company and check to see that all the paperwork is in order. The FAA personnel will be looking over the application and see if any information contained within the documents is unsatisfactory or incomplete. The FAA will notify the applicant as to whether their application was rejected or accepted within 5 working days. If the evaluation was rejected then the applicant may given a chance to attend a followup evaluation. Successful completion of an evaluation will mean that applicants can move onto phase 2 of the application process (Volume 10 Chapter 6, FAA, p.1).
The second phase of the application process entails Design Assessment. This includes a series of training courses designed to ensure that all parts of the operation understand and are trained in all FAA guidelines. Employees that must complete the training process are pilots, flight attendants, dispatch and maintenance. The training program should be pre-approved by the FAA to ensure that it is acceptable. All personnel must be thoroughly trained in compliance with FAA regulations before the applicant can move onto phase 3 of the application process. The training process encompasses another very important part of the airline certification process and that is operations management. The operations personnel “schedule the aircraft and flight crews and develop and administer all policies and procedures necessary to maintain safety and to meet all FAA operating requirements (Airlines.org, 2011, p.1).” The operations personnel thus must be the ones to ensure that all employees are properly trained under FAA guidelines and that all paperwork is correctly filed. Once all the training has been completed and is found to be in compliance with FAA regulations, the applicant will then move onto phase 3.
The third and final stage is conducted to confirm that the applicant is ready to operate. During the third phase, the applicant will conduct an internal safety assessment in which the operations systems are tested using company audit procedures. If any concerns or breaches in security or safety are discovered, the applicant should address them immediately and ensure that they are corrected before submitting them to the FAA for approval. When documentation of the audit is submitted to the CPM, it will be reviewed the results and check to see if the applicant has addressed any and all concerns that were found during the internal safety assessment. All aircraft must be inspected by FAA inspectors to ensure they are mechanically sound and in compliance with FAA safety standards. The FAA must be notified by the applicant at least 10 working days before the proposed aircraft evaluation (Volume 10 Chapter 6, FAA, p.1). Phase 3 is of vital importance to ensure that the applicant airline and its craft are operating in adherence to FAA regulations. This means that not only is the aircraft in excellent mechanical order, but that the staff operating it is knowledgeable and trained and has access to competent working system design plans.