Program Manager and Aerospace Engineer, FAA Aircraft Certification Service’s Organizational Performance Division
By Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Associate Editor
Living under the flight path of a major airport may not be for everyone, but it is the sound of opportunity for people like James Sutherland. That beautiful roar of jet engines convinced James at age seven to be part of the world of aviation.
By middle school, James was still unsure if he wanted to be a pilot, aerospace engineer, or a controller. His Legos put him on the path to aerospace engineering, and Civil Air Patrol vectored him to flying. James soled as a CAP cadet and earned his private pilot certificate after graduating from high school in Seattle. He went on to earn an aerospace engineering degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.
James eventually took a job with Lancair, working on the certificated version of the ES kit plane. He also became an FAA designated engineering representative (DER) for fuel, control systems, and structures for the aircraft manufacturer. Later he moved on to Columbia Helicopters as the engineering manager, then to Precise Flight as the director of engineering, and expanded his DER authorization for oxygen systems.
Once James landed at the FAA, he worked in the airframe branch and focused on general aviation (GA) projects at the Seattle Aircraft Certification Office (ACO). James had also recently upgraded from personal flying of the Diamond DA20 Katana to the Cirrus SR22, so GA work was the perfect fit. However, he did venture into the larger world of Boeing as a program manager for the 737NG and 747–8, and he worked on the return to service effort for the 737 MAX. James went back to working in GA as the small airplane program manager before taking his current position working with government-industry safety partnerships like the General Aviation Joint Safety Committee (GAJSC) and U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST).
“I work with the different safety teams to identify and address emerging safety issues,” explains James. “I help coordinate these issues within the FAA’s aircraft certification line of business while providing support addressing the concerns and activities of the safety teams.”
One of the safety enhancements James is working on involves collaborating with industry to gather information about muffler/exhaust system issues. Issues of degradation in power, complete loss of power, and carbon monoxide poisoning are still occurring. He is also working on additional educational outreach about aircraft loss of control and the proactive use of angle of attack indicators.
“The FAA and manufacturers [OEMs] have great working relationships, which allows us to monitor safety issues. This continued operational safety work leads to design changes, service bulletins, SAIBs, and ADs,” James notes. “However, even the OEMs get limited data on GA aircraft after delivery or outside of the warranty. We need your help! If you see something, say something.”
You can help proactively improve the safety of our GA community by filing a service difficulty report (SDRS) or a “NASA report” through the anonymous Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS).
“Owners, pilots, and mechanics are our best source of information on the difficulties and challenges with maintaining and operating the GA fleet,” he said. “We want to identify issues, come up with a fix, and get that fix out before we have an accident.”
Reports as simple as losing engine power on takeoff and then landing safety can still provide valuable data. Details like the make/model or what specifically malfunctioned and part numbers are vital to a voluntary report. Reporting when something is amiss helps the FAA identify problems before they are even known.
Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.