Within the first week of my working career at an airplane manufacturer, I learned my first aviation quote which is attributed to Donald Douglas – “When the weight of the paper equals the weight of the airplane, only then you can go flying.” Actually, it was slightly modified. The saying went more like, “When the weight of the FAA certification paperwork equals the maximum takeoff weight of the airplane, then certification is complete.” It takes an enormous amount of documentation to gain type certification of an aircraft, and it all starts with the enormous library of FAA national policy and guidance to lead the way.
FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law No: 115-254) became law on October 5, 2018 and contains a provision in the law which requires the FAA to establish a “centralized safety guidance database” that merges all FAA database systems into one central location. This centralized safety guidance database has been named the “Dynamic Regulatory System” (DRS). Below is a copy of Section 223 of the FAA Reauthorization Act.
SEC. 223. <> CENTRALIZED SAFETY GUIDANCE DATABASE.
(a) ESTABLISHMENT.—Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall establish a centralized safety guidance database that will–
(1) encompass all of the regulatory guidance documents of the FAA Office of Aviation Safety;
(2) contain, for each such guidance document, a link to the Code of Federal Regulations provision to which the document relates; and
(3) be publicly available in a manner that—
(A) protects from disclosure identifying information regarding an individual or entity; and
(B) prevents inappropriate disclosure proprietary information.
(b) DATA ENTRY TIMING.—
(1) EXISTING DOCUMENTS.—Not later than 14 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Administrator shall begin entering into the database established under subsection (a) all of the regulatory guidance documents of the Office of Aviation Safety that are in effect and were issued before the date on which the Administrator begins such entry process.
(2) NEW DOCUMENTS AND CHANGES.—On and after the date on which the Administrator begins the document entry process under paragraph (1), the Administrator shall ensure that all new regulatory guidance documents of the Office of Aviation Safety and any changes to existing documents are included in the database established under subsection (a) as such documents or changes to existing documents are issued.
(c) CONSULTATION REQUIREMENT.—In establishing the database under subsection (a), the Administrator shall consult and collaborate with appropriate stakeholders, including labor organizations (including those representing aviation workers, FAA aviation safety engineers and FAA aviation safety inspectors) and aviation industry stakeholders.
Dynamic Regulatory System (DRS)
According to the FAA, “DRS combines more than 65 document types from a dozen repositories into a single searchable application. It also includes all information found in the Flight Standards Information System (FSIMS) and the agency’s Regulatory Guidance System (RGL).” For information directly from the FAA website, visit the programs & initiatives page or the DRS FAQs page. Note that the FAA already has a “Designee Registration System” and FAA uses “DRS” for its acronym as well. I’m not sure if the FAA was running out of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) or why they chose to use the term “DRS” for two different systems used by FAA and industry. For the purposes of this article, we will continue to use “DRS“ as “Dynamic Regulatory System“.
Note About Linking
Since opening documents in DRS implements a blob object within your browser which is responsible for holding the data, there doesn’t appear to be any way to link directly to documents within DRS. That’s one downside of DRS since it’s always handy to share documents with others through static URLs.
A Leap Forward in Usability
Since my personal usage of FAA policy and guidance is generally scoped to airworthiness certification, my primary use of DRS is to find the reference information that has been otherwise hosted on the Regulatory and Guidance Library (RGL). While both DRS and RGL are browsable databases, the search technology behind DRS is certainly a leap forward. RGL does have a search function, but DRS allows searches across databases rather than searching individual databases one at a time. The user can select datasets to search and whether they want to search by title or within the documents. I can see how DRS will save time for people who need to search across multiple datasets since it consolidates information that is spread across multiple webpages. The interface is certainly cleaner and search technology is a significant upgrade compared to the legacy systems.
Joel Heck has been with Cessna, now Textron Aviation, for 24 years in engineering. His entire career has been focused on the design approval aspects of FAA certification, and his technical work experience in certification spans the Cessna, Beechcraft, and McCauley product lines.