Submitting Electronically Signed Documents to the Federal Aviation Administration

Electronic Signatures

Since the enactment of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998 (“GPEA”) the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) has been working on a system to accept electronically signed documents. Since then the FAA has taken steps to achieve this goal including FAA Order 1370.104 (the “Order”) which outlines the basis for the FAA’s acceptance of electronic signatures. However, only recently has the FAA fully embraced the acceptance of electronic signatures. Effective May 1, 2016 the FAA issued a Policy Clarification (the “Clarification”) in the Federal Register filling out the details of its policy for accepting electronic signatures.

Before we get into the details of the Clarification, let’s first take a brief look at electronic signatures. The Order defines electronic signatures as a “digital marking used to bind a party or, to authenticate a record.” The Order goes on to make an important distinction and says that a digital signature is “a type of electronic signature that is legally acceptable and offers both signer and transaction authentication.” Basically the Order says that an electronic signature is any kind of electronic representation of a signature, including a photocopy or digitized image of a signature, while a digital signature is one that goes beyond the electronic image and allows for verification of the signer.

The Clarification says that the FAA Civil Air Registry will accept documents that display legible and acceptable digital signatures on registration applications, bills of sale, security documents, lease documents, conditional sale agreements, and any supporting authorization documents. According to the Clarification, when a digital signature is received by the FAA Civil Air Registry the FAA Legal Instrument Examiners will review such and make sure it meets the legible and acceptable standard.

When being reviewed by the Legal Instrument Examiners, the Clarification says that a digital signature will be deemed legible and acceptable if it meets the following criteria: (1) Shows the name of the signer and is applied in a way to execute or validate the document; (2) Includes the typed or printed name of the signer below or adjacent to the signature when the signature uses a digitized version of the signer’s hand signature or the name is in a cursive font; (3) Shows the signer’s title as part of the digital signature when the signer is singing on behalf of an organization or entity; (4) Shows evidence of authentication of the signer’s identity or provides an authentication code from the software provider; and (5) Has a size, color, and density that is clearly legible and reproducible when reviewed, copied, and scanned in black and white.

If a Legal Instrument Examiner determines that a digital signature is legible and acceptable, per the standards set forth in the Clarification, then the document that is has been applied to will be considered facially valid and will be acceptable for review and consideration by the FAA Civil Air Registry for recordation and registration purposes.

As you can see, the FAA’s system for acceptance of digitally signed documents opens up many new opportunities to increase speed and efficiency when filing documents with the FAA Civil Air Registry. However, the new system can be somewhat confusing and has very strict standards. Accordingly, if you find yourself needing or wanting to submit electronically signed documents to the FAA and you have questions, give us a call and we will be glad to help.