As reported back in May of last year, the International Aerospace Quality Group (IAQG) was toying with adding “nonconformity quotas” as a metric of auditor performance. Disregarding all feedback on this astonishingly bad idea, IAQG leadership went ahead and hard-coded this into the latest edition of AS9104/3, the standard on “Requirements for Aviation, Space, and Defense Auditor Training, Development, Competence, and Authentication.” The latest version was just published in November of 2020. (Click here to buy it.)
The new version adds section 8.2 on “Auditor Performance Criteria and Parameters” which reads, “Performance monitoring shall address, at a minimum, the following mandatory criteria… (a) nonconformities per audit day.” It then goes on to say that IAQG management will “establish, document, and communicate performance parameters (thresholds), for each of the mandatory criteria.”
The standard then goes on to require a “Performance Improvement Plan” (PIP) in the event that an auditor does not meet the nonconformity quota requirements. A review of the auditor’s performance must be done “every 12 months” against the quotas. Furthermore, a failure to meet nonconformity quotas can result in an increase in an auditor’s witness activities, in what AS9104/3 calls a “risk-based process to vary the frequency of witness audits for auditors.”
Failure of an auditor to comply with the quotas and/or take actions per the PIP can allow the CB to “terminate the contract for AQMS audits” with that auditor.
There are few other ways to interpret this other than a literal “quota.”
Obviously, any third-party conformity assessment scheme relies on key accreditation principles, and these are codified in the standards ISO 17011 and ISO 17021-1, as well as World Trade Organization rules, and even ANSI documents. One of these is “impartiality,” which is critical to the issuance of ISO and AS certifications.
ISO 17021-1, the standard for certification bodies including those operating under the As9100 scheme, describes the requirements for impartiality as follows (emphasis added):
4.2.3 To obtain and maintain confidence, it is essential that a certification body’s decisions be based on objective evidence of conformity (or nonconformity) obtained by the certification body, and that its decisions are not influenced by other interests or by other parties.
That standard then goes on to define threats to impartiality as including:
Intimidation: threats that arise from a person or body having a perception of being coerced openly or secretively, such as a threat to be replaced or reported to a supervisor.
Clearly, the threat of an official PIP and termination if one fails to write an artificial number of nonconformities would fall under this clause.
Worse, the IAQG mandate violates international law. The EU regulation EC 765-2008 requires that accreditation bodies operate under the principle of “impartiality.” Since AS9100 is an international scheme, and IAQG an international organization with many European members and partners, they are subject to this law.
This means that both certification bodies and their accreditation bodies, like UKAS and ANAB, will be in violation of their own accreditation rules if they go along with this plan.
The IAQG mandate also ensures that larger companies will have more nonconformities than smaller ones, since the quota is based on “audit days.” The number of audit days required for each company is based on employee count and company size, so a large company that requires 15 audit days is thus likely to have 15 times more nonconformities than a small company that only requires 1 audit day. In reality, a company may have a very good or very poor quality system, regardless of its size, and the number of nonconformities issued should represent their level of conformity, not their physical size.
This will also increase the number of invalid findings that are upheld by the CB. Per accreditation rules, each certification body is required to have a committee that reviews each AS9100 audit report before a final certification decision is made. This review includes a requirement to ensure that nonconformities are valid. The IAQG rule will push committee members to accept more invalid, “bogus” nonconformities in order to hit performance goals, rather than reject them based on lack of evidence.
The entire thing will then force additional costs and strain on certified clients, who have to invest time and money in responding to each nonconformity.
The people responsible for this decision were named in internal memos, and include Eric Jefferies of Bell Helicopter, Deneige Fitzpatrick of Bombardier, Pete Cracknell of BAE, Yuta Kumada of MHI, Markus Krooss of Airbus, Brian Geer of Lockheed, Eric Saillard of Thales, Brendon Hill of BSI, Jeanette Preston of Smithers, Mike McRandall of NSF-ISR, and Rich DeMary of Probitas.
All of them ignored emails sent to them calling on them to reverse course back in May. Not a single one replied, and the AS9104/3 standard was published anyway.
Worse, the IAQG has ignored a complaint filed against BSI for having already established nonconformity quotas before the AS9104/3 rule was published. The OASIS “feedback ticket” on that complaint remains untouched by IAQG since May, despite the IAQG claiming it measures its own performance based on OASIS feedback response times.
I’ve now opened a new ticket demanding that IAQG withdraw the November 2020 revision of AS9104/3 and issue a new version without the nonconformity quota. So far, IAQG has also ignored that ticket.
Clearly, the imposition of “nonconformity quotas” will lead to class action suits. It calls into question every single nonconformity that will be issued for any AS9100 client anywhere, and could allow victims to recoup the costs associated with processing those nonconformities. For those who have had their AS9100 certificates suspended or withdrawn, the damages caused by loss of customer contract could also be recoverable.
Then, consider the legal options open to AS9100 auditors themselves, especially the ones who may recoil against artificially inflating their audit findings to meet some obscure goal set by IAQG execs. They, too, will have legal pathways to contest if they were fired or received poor performance evaluations for insufficient nonconformity write-ups.
The US government and IAF have shown no interest in reining in the malpractice and corruption by IAQG and the AS9100 overseers, to it may be time to bring this to the courts. Oxebridge has some attorneys already standing by, so if you’ve been victimized by audit quotas, contact me.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.