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
AQAP--NATO requirements for an industrial
FAA--Federal Aviation Administration
FAA FARs--FAA aviation requirements
FAR--Federal aviation requirements
ISO--International Organization for
MIL-Q-9858--A former U.S. Department
of Defense quality requirement cancelled in 1996
NASA--National Aeronautics and Space
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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