January 2021 | Content by Michael Diaz, NAPMA Chief Engineer

What is a TAA?

Most of the folks in the Tri-Border military community know that NAPMA manages major modernisation programmes for the NATO E-3A fleet. However, there’s a second, and perhaps even more critical, role that NAPMA performs in direct support of the NATO AWACS fleet. In addition to overseeing the management of acquisition programmes, the NAPMA General Manager also serves as the NE-3A’s Technical Airworthiness Authority (TAA) as the counterpart to the NAEW&C Force Commander who, in case you didn’t already know it, serves as the Operational Airworthiness Authority (OAA).

What exactly does the TAA do and what, more specifically, is Technical Airworthiness? In order to answer these questions, we need to understand how long the NE-3A has had a TAA, what responsibilities are attributed to the TAA and further explore the relationship between Technical and Operational Airworthiness.

Let’s start in 1982 with the delivery of the first NATO E-3A aircraft which, at that time, shared the same configuration as the USAF E-3 and, therefore, had the same type design. Consequently, NAPMA and the NAEW&C Force could depend on USAF processes and authorities to certify the NE-3A type design as airworthy. This approach continued for each NE-3A modernisation effort that NAPMA performed jointly with the USAF from the Block 10/15 programme through to the Radar System Improvement Programme. However, when NAPMA embarked on a NATO-unique aircraft upgrade with the NATO Mid-Term (NMT) and Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) efforts, a new problem arose. Namely, the NE-3A type design was now different from the USAF E-3 and, as a result, the NE-3A configuration fell outside the USAF’s control and authority.

In 2007, NAPMA’s USAF partners advised the Agency to explore the establishment of its own airworthiness system based on USAF airworthiness and Operational Safety, Suitability, and Effectiveness (OSS&E) processes that would include best practices from the NAPMO nations. In the following years, several studies were performed which culminated in a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NAPMO and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) that created the current airworthiness framework. This framework included the establishment of two airworthiness authorities – the TAA and the OAA.

Since 2012, the NAPMA GM has served in a dual-hatted role, taking on the additional duty as the NE-3A TAA responsible for the development and implementation of a technical airworthiness programme that ensures all NE-3A aircraft modification efforts comply with OSS&E requirements and technical airworthiness certification criteria. In addition, because the USAF authorities no longer certify the NE-3A type design as airworthy, this responsibility was given to the TAA as the responsible authority for the control and approval of the NE-3A certification basis. In practice, this means the TAA is responsible for issuance of the NE-3A Military Type Certificate (MTC). The MTC is a formal declaration that the NE-3A type design has been certified as compliant with the certification basis.

However, it’s important to understand that expressions such as “certification basis” and “certified baseline” are just fancy terms for a collection or library of documents. In other words, these documents define the minimum technical requirements for an aircraft to be considered safe or airworthy. So, when you hear that an authority has approved a certification basis, this means that the authority has performed an independent assessment of the evidence that prove the technical requirements have been met.

The technical airworthiness programme is applicable to all NE-3A aircraft modifications – large and small. It is applicable to any aircraft modification that changes the aircraft configuration. To ensure that this happens as smoothly and effectively as possible, the TAA’s staff – led by the NAPMA Chief Engineer’s Office – works closely with their counterparts on the Force Headquarters’ staff. Of course, the technical airworthiness of the NE-3A fleet is of critical importance to the Force Commander as the OAA. It’s ultimately the OAA’s responsibility to ensure that the personnel who maintain and operate the NE-3A are doing so in accordance with the certified technical baseline – those formal documents discussed earlier. Without this close working relationship between NAPMA and the Force, the ongoing modernisation efforts could not be completed and the airworthiness of the NE-3A fleet would not be assured.

NE-3A LX-N90445 in a maintenance dock.
© 2010 - Harry Janssen

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