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by Dale K. Gordon

The news that business conditions in aerospace are difficult will come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the U.S. economy. With airlines going in and out of bankruptcy, the Columbia disaster still fresh in everyone's mind and the recent conflict in Iraq, you'd think aerospace's most prudent option would be to hunker down and ride out the storm.


AECMA--European Association of Aerospace Industries

AQAP--NATO requirements for an industrial quality program

FAA--Federal Aviation Administration

FAA FARs--FAA aviation requirements

FAR--Federal aviation requirements

ISO--International Organization for Standardization

MIL-Q-9858--A former U.S. Department of Defense quality requirement cancelled in 1996

NASA--National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NATO--North Atlantic Treaty Organization

OEM--Original equipment manufacturer


However, the industry has done nothing of the kind. Despite its difficulties, aerospace continues to move forward and improve. This is especially true of the industry's quality standards, which have been evolving toward standardized quality processes among global aerospace manufacturers.

During an April meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, the International Aerospace Quality Group--an association of North and South American, Asian-Pacific, and European aerospace sectors--presented a new strategy that will coordinate quality processes with the aerospace supply chain and expand stakeholders' involvement in the decision-making process and the products that result. Also, because present methods won't serve the industry well into the cost- and schedule-dependent future, the strategy includes recommendations for creating new quality processes and methods to maintain safety and security.

Standards past and present

A retrospective look at the past decade shows that the industry has made tremendous improvements to its quality philosophy and deployment of processes. It wasn't so long ago that aerospace OEMs added company-specific requirements to customer and regulatory requirements such as MIL-Q-9858, AQAP-1, and NASA and FAA FARs. These were often sent to suppliers as quality system requirements that each supplier had to adapt to meet its customer's needs. Individual aerospace OEMs then performed audits against their own requirements, often consuming supplier and OEM resources in an effort to interpret and implement them. These slightly differing requirements sometimes took on separate lives, which meant that suppliers were constantly audited to different criteria for basically the same top-level standard.

During the early 1990s, the Department of Defense's head of acquisition called for a single process initiative. The department's procurement officers were asked to drop as many contract-specific requirements as possible and adopt commercial practices instead. Because no other standard was readily available, ISO 9001:1987 (and subsequently, :1994 and :2000) was accepted as the commercial-equivalent quality system.

From as early as the mid-1980s, the military, NASA and the aerospace industry had been looking for ways to cut costs, and one of the first and most logical steps was eliminating redundant quality systems requirements in favor of a single quality assurance process. This was intended to reduce overhead caused by each OEM maintaining audit staffs and specialists to oversee the supplier community. The National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program was created in response to this need.

Due to the problem of duplicate and contradictory requirements, the aerospace industry learned the hard lesson that product and service quality in determining customer selection is as important as price, delivery and performance. Given design and development's high costs and the prevalence of joint partnerships, most companies in the industry are both suppliers and customers to each other and their vast supplier networks. This has promoted a level playing field at least where quality matters are concerned, and the idea has become something of a rallying cry for the IAQG: "Where quality is concerned, there's no competitive advantage."

Recognizing the need for uniform supplier requirements, in 1995, several major aerospace manufacturers banded together under the umbrella of American Society for Quality to create the American Aerospace Quality Group. The AAQG first discussed using ISO 9001 as a stand-alone document; however, it required so much supplementation for each aerospace concern that the idea proved impractical. The AAQG then attempted to create an industrywide quality system standard known as ARD 9000, which was published by the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1996. Shortly thereafter, the AAQG split from the ASQ and reformed as an SAE Aerospace Council subcommittee. Its mission was to create requirements and solutions to standardize the industry's quality requirements. The subcommittee refined ARD 9000 and, in 1997, released a new standard called AS9000.

AS9000 comes of age

Unlike its prototype documents, AS9000 focuses on areas of importance to the aerospace industry. It recognizes the relationships and requirements of regulatory agencies. It also recognizes that the supplier community is an extension of its own processes and procedures and must therefore be tightly controlled to reduce variation. It focuses on processes that, if not followed, can have extreme consequences to a product's safety, reliability and performance. AS9000 adds industry-specific requirements such as foreign object damage control, one of aerospace's most prevalent and potentially deadly problems. The standard also emphasizes quality along the entire supply chain. Process planning and control is also important--not just for a process itself but also for the tooling, equipment, software and people involved. Finally, AS9000 increases requirements for documenting results because many times the only evidence that processes have been correctly performed is the documentation created while the work was underway.

Although AS9000 satisfied these immediate needs, the AAQG recognized that OEMs operate globally--a trend that would only increase. A global standard was in order. In 1998, ISO Technical Committee 20, which is involved in aerospace standards, agreed to sponsor Working Group 11, which created an ISO technical paper for quality system requirements. It used as a template AS9000 and a corresponding European document called prEN 9000-1. However, if ISO TC 20 published the document, the standard would've taken additional time to implement and would've lost its ISO 9000 identity, as did a similar standard developed by the automotive industry. About this time, the IAQG was formed to help facilitate standardization and cooperation among major aerospace OEMs.

AS9100 and its global counterparts

The new standardized document, called 9100, was still based on ISO 9001:1994(E), although it was published separately by each country's aerospace association or standards body. In the United States, it's an SAE document called AS9100. In Europe it's known as AECMA EN9100, and in Japan it's JIS Q 9100. It's also published in Brazil and expected to be published soon in Korea, China and several more countries.

The process of standardizing added almost 55 more amplifications and requirements than there are in ISO 9001:1994. When ISO revised the ISO 9001 quality management system standard in 2000, the aerospace industry kept on top of the changes and published a revised standard within six months; this revised document was "technically equivalent" as far as aerospace supplementation was concerned. Only a few minor enhancements were made and some technical corrections submitted. When it was published in the United States in 2001, it was released as AS9100 A. In it the number of supplementations were significantly reduced. However, it included both the new version of the standard, based on ISO 9001:2000, and the original version based on ISO 9001:1994.

AS9100 requires that "key characteristics" are managed when identified. Keys characteristics are features of a material, process or part in which the variation has a significant influence on product fit, performance, service life or manufacturability. The standard requires that an organization establish and document a configuration management process. AS9100 also includes extensive supplementation in the design and development processes. Additional notes are included for both design and development verification and validation, and highlight traditional areas of emphasis.

Emphasis is placed on managing suppliers throughout the aerospace supply chain. In particular, AS9100 includes a number of additional expectations for identifying and maintaining suppliers. The standard lists seven specific areas to consider when communicating requirements. They range from clarifying engineering requirements to managing test specimens and right of access to suppliers' facilities. Procedures for determining the method of supplier control are required, as are the processes used when employing these methods.

Controlling production processes is highlighted. This is especially important when conducting special processes that don't lend themselves to after-the-fact inspection techniques. Tooling and other production equipment, including computer-controlled machines to fabricate and assemble products, are subject to an additional level of scrutiny.

Servicing requirements are an important part of an aerospace quality management system. These include maintenance and repair manuals as well as the actual service work. Documenting the work performed, equipment used and the people involved is important. For facilities that engage only in maintenance, repair and overhaul, the recently released AS9110 is preferred.

The AS9100 standard imposes traceability requirements for some or all components as dictated by the customer or regulatory authority. The standard provides the essentials of an effective traceability program and some additional expectations regarding internal quality audits. Another requirement, first-article inspections, demonstrates product conformance to engineering requirements. The standard suggests that aerospace standard AS/EN/SJAC 9102, which was developed by the IAQG and outlines a methodology for performing and documenting first-article inspections, be consulted for further guidance.

Industry-managed processes

More than 70 percent of global IAQG members have implemented AS9100 internally and are requiring it of their supply chains. At the IAQG meeting in Edinburgh, the AS9100 writing team was reconvened to make a minor adjustment to the standard. When AS9100 revision A was published, IAQG recognized that AS9100 would have to undergo another revision at the end of 2003. At that time, the older ISO 9001:1994-based AS9100 standard will be removed from current published editions and the AS9000 document and checklist--which is still in use--will be withdrawn.

Increasingly, the aerospace industry is using industry-managed processes as a means of demonstrating a supplier's compliance to 9100 and other standards. In the United States, the AAQG, in conjunction with the Registrar Accreditation Board, have established both requirements and processes for auditors and registration bodies. Within the Americas, the Registrar Management Committee oversees this function for aerospace OEMs and their suppliers. The process is defined in the SAE's Aerospace Information Report 5359. This document details the operation and responsibilities of all parties involved in the approval process. Currently, the document covers only AS9000 and AS9100. However, a revision will soon be released that will cover additional standards and expire existing AS9000 and AS9100 certificates based on ISO 9001:1994.

The AAQG published AIR 5493 as well, which describes the requirements for revised AS9100 standards training. The report will be released soon and will provide for course accreditation by the RAB.

These industry-managed processes are being replicated in the other IAQG sectors of Asia and Europe, and results will be made available via a common database managed by SAE. The database and industry-managed processes will be overseen by the IAQG so that the concept of "one approval accepted everywhere" will truly become a reality in aerospace. The database will be operational beginning in July.

The global aerospace authorities are also working together to review the activities of major OEMs with respect to supplier oversight. The FAA has concluded that AS9100 is "a comprehensive quality standard containing the basic quality control/assurance elements required by the current Code of Federal Regulations, Title 14, Part 21." The Department of Defense has adopted AS9100 and made it available for use on contracts. Likewise, NASA issued a similar notice that it had reviewed the standard and approved its use for contractual requirements. Civil aviation authorities are evaluating and commenting on the industry-managed plans. For the most part, these processes effectively use scarce resources and increase oversight while minimizing confusion and intrusion into a supplier's and OEM's operations.

AS9100 and its global counterparts will help speed the changes that have occurred in aerospace and will promote quality, safety and reliability in an industry committed to helping bring the world together.

About the author

Dale K. Gordon is director of quality methods for Rolls-Royce, North America, in Indianapolis. He has more than 26 years of experience in aerospace quality and is a past chair of the Americas Aerospace Quality Group (1998–2001), a Society of Automotive Engineers committee (G-14) responsible for the AS9000 series of standards. Gordon also leads the Americas group that created the AS9100 quality system standard for aerospace. Comments about this article can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.