The MAA have discussed the certification of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol aircraft, prior to it entering front line service.
The aircraft first flew in 2009 and entered US Navy operational service in 2014. It should be noted that whilst the Poseidon’s heritage is from the Boeing 737; the aircraft are designed, certified and built as military aircraft and are not civil airliners modified for a new role.
MOD Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) are responsible for acquisition of the Poseidon aircraft, associated systems and support through a Foreign Military Sales contract with the US Department of Defense. Like all new United Kingdom (UK) military air systems the Poseidon must be certified by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA) before entering front line service. This certification activity is a process to demonstrate independently that the aircraft design complies with defined reference standards and can achieve an acceptable level of safety.
The certification process is an extremely extensive one that involves considerable interaction between the Type Airworthiness Authority (TAA), who is the senior engineer in the DE&S Delivery Team, and the Certification Division of the MAA. The process culminates in the issue of a Military Type Certificate (MTC) by the MAA and is detailed in RA 5810. This requirement for independent certification of new air systems by the MAA was a recommendation of the 2009 Haddon-Cave Report that led to the founding of the MAA.
A major element of the MAA 5 year strategy is engagement with other nation’s military aviation regulators.This includes a formal process of recognition and, where appropriate, harmonising our approach internationally. Poseidon was introduced into US Navy service under the auspices of their procurement organisation Naval Air Systems Command, known as NAVAIR. The aircraft certification process was carried out by the US Navy’s airworthiness regulator, the 4.0P division of NAVAIR. As part of the MAA’s mutual recognition programme, NAVAIR 4.0P were recognised in October 2014 as a regulator whose approach to airworthiness, certification and regulation are acceptable to the MAA. Once the decision to procure Poseidon was confirmed, it was decided that it would be logical to exploit the mutual recognition process and use NAVAIR 4.0P’s work on Poseidon as a key building block of the MAA’s certification of the aircraft.
Whilst NAVAIR 4.0P has been recognised by the MAA, as with any other military regulator, it is important to note that there are significant differences in their regulatory approach. These mean that exploiting their certification activity was not simply a matter of “rubber-stamping” the NAVAIR equivalent of a MTC. Rather the MAA has developed a structured approach to re-use existing certification evidence to cater for differences in UK regulations, together with any differences in the configuration and operation of the aircraft in RAF service compared with the US Navy. This approach is explained in greater detail in 2 MAA Regulatory Notices, MAA/RN/2016/11and MAA/RN/2015/08, and the MAA decided that certification of Poseidon was a suitable opportunity to test its’ application.
The first step in the process is what is termed a Part A Review. This is essentially a feasibility study to carry out an assessment of the acceptability and applicability of the original certification activities, in this case by NAVAIR4.0P. The review also takes into account how the aircraft will be used in service by the RAF and the impact of any configuration differences between the UK and US Navy variants of Poseidon. During the Part A review it was confirmed that the Poseidon had been certified by NAVAIR to the processes that had been reviewed by the MAA during the recognition activity in 2014. However, it should be noted that many military airworthiness regulators have, like the MAA, been created in their current form only in the last decade and have evolved practice from there. Therefore, exploiting the mutual recognition route would probably not be feasible if the UK purchases an aircraft that has already been in service for a lengthy period, as it would have likely been certified to a different process to the one that has been recognised.