What Exactly is a Compliance Finding?

With just a few years under my belt as a young stress engineer back in the late 1990s, I was getting the hang of certification work.  My manager was the acting structures DER (Designated Engineering Representative) on the certification project we were working on at the time.  We were in the middle of the throes of the Model 560XL structural test program, which was a derivative Part 25 business jet.  It was all pretty straight forward – obtain conformity for the test, run the test, and document the results in a test report.  My manager who reviewed the test reports signed an FAA form 8110-3 for every report.  At the time I really didn’t think much about the different roles between applicant and FAA designee.

Stacks of Findings for the 560XL, but I Can’t Find the Definition

At that time the certification department (called Airworthiness at some companies) kept discussing and making reference to “specific findings”.  Not knowing anything about the term “specific finding”, I started reading through FAA Order 8110.4A to see what I could find.  I searched and searched and came up empty handed.  (Realize, of course, we weren’t using PDF copies and doing key word searches back in those days.)  It seems the term “specific finding” was elusive to me; however, I was working a Part 25 project at the time and not thinking about FAA order 8100.9 which covers Delegation Option Authorization (DOA) procedures for Part 23.  I learned that a “specific finding” is simply a “compliance finding” made by the FAA and is covered in Order 8100.9.  So then, what is a “compliance finding?”  The term “compliance finding” can be found in numerous places within FAA policy and guidance.  FAA Order 8110.4 has an entire section devoted to compliance finding activities.  However, the most interesting thing about the term “compliance finding” is that it’s not actually defined anywhere, other than the activity required to make a “compliance finding.”

Showings and Findings

It became very clear to me one day during a meeting with the local FAA ACO (Aircraft Certification Office).  One of the Cessna engineers at the meeting mentioned that we were finding compliance by releasing a report.  That comment immediately sent us into a discussion about showings and findings, and the FAA kindly corrected the engineer’s thinking.  The applicant shows compliance with airworthiness standards (code of federal regulations) by producing data.  A compliance finding is made based on that data by the FAA or their designee (if the finding is delegated to the designee).

So What is a Compliance Finding?

A compliance finding is a verification that the engineering data presented by the applicant complies with the applicable airworthiness standards.  A compliance finding is documented on FAA form 8110-3 (standard certification) or 8100-9 (Organization Designation Authorization or ODA).  Compliance findings are made by authorized people.  Either the FAA makes the compliance findings or the FAA delegates the findings to their designees.  Designees could either be DERs or ODA Unit Members.

Applicant Shows and FAA Finds

It’s important to remember that it’s the applicant’s responsibility to generate and document the data necessary (drawings, reports, manuals, etc.) for showing compliance.  The data is then reviewed by the FAA or their designees to document the findings of compliance.

So What is a Specific Finding?

The FAA determines their level of involvement of each certification project during review of the certification plan.  The FAA may decide to retain some findings of compliance for certain regulations which means that the delegated findings must be reviewed for concurrence by the FAA.  The applicant still uses FAA designees to make findings of compliance using FAA forms 8110-3 or 8100-9; however, the designee marks the form “recommend approve” instead of “approve”.  A specific finding is the same as an FAA retained finding.

Are Compliance Findings Only Made Against CFRs?

As shown in FAA Order 8110.37F, non-CFR certification requirements that the FAA recognizes include the airworthiness requirements accepted for primary category airplanes, airship design criteria, and the Joint Aviation Requirements (JAR) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Requirements for Very Light Airplanes (VLA).

For Further Reading

FAA Order 8110.4C defines the required activity for compliance findings.  FAA Order 8110.37F and 8100.15B describe the procedures for designees who make findings of compliance as delegated by the FAA.

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