If you're new to the aerospace industry or are thinking about a career in aerospace, you may occasionally hear people speak of ISO 9100 certification. You won't find any such number if you search through a list of ISO certification programs because it's based on a confusion between two separate but overlapping standards.

ISO 9001 vs. AS9100

Speaking of ISO 9100 isn't factually correct. It's a mashup of the broad ISO 9001 quality management standard with the narrower AS9100 standard, which is specifically targeted to the needs of the aerospace community. They're both intended as global standards, a tool to ensure that companies in any country manage their processes by the same measures.

Ideally, a manufacturer should be able to order components from an ISO 9001-certified supplier anywhere in the world and be confident that those parts were produced with the same attention to quality no matter their point of origin. ISO 9001 is administered by the International Organization for Standardization, and it focuses on how a company manages its process rather than the details of the processes themselves.

AS9100 is administered by the Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, with the input and support of the International Aerospace Quality Group, an industry association. It's built on the ISO 9001 standard, using that as a base but extending and enhancing it to meet the needs of aerospace manufacturers.

The ISO 9001: 2015 Standard

The most recent version of ISO 9001, as of mid-2019, is the 2015 revision. It follows trends that began in the earlier 2000 and 2008 revisions, moving the standard away from its base in manufacturing and its focus on documentation. The newer standard is more widely applicable to businesses in any industry and puts less emphasis on documentation and more on performance.

It's designed to integrate smoothly with other quality and management standards, so enterprises that need to meet multiple standards won't be saddled with onerous and contradictory requirements. It's also explicitly designed with the thought that other industries, including the aerospace industry, can tailor it more easily to their own needs.

The AS9100 Rev. D Standard

The current version of the AS9100 standard as of mid-2019 is Revision D, which was released in 2016. It incorporates the changes made to the underlying ISO 9001 standard, but it adds a number of changes in its own right to reflect the current concerns of the aerospace industry. These include a tighter focus on counterfeit parts, supplier monitoring and product safety. There's also an emphasis on human factors, including ethics training.

AS9100 itself isn't applicable to the entire aerospace industry, just to designers and manufacturers. There are closely related specifications – AS9110 for aircraft maintenance companies and AS9120 for suppliers of electronics and hardware components – which give similar guidance to enterprises operating in those areas.

AS9100 Certification

The bodies that set and administer these standards, ISO and SAE, don't provide certification for companies who need to demonstrate compliance with the standards. That task falls to a network of training and certification bodies who audit a company's operations and verify that their internal processes meet the standard's specifications.

When a new ISO standard is released, it takes time to realign a company's processes to bring them into compliance with the revised requirements. The same holds true for the companies offering training and certification. The International Organization for Standardization allows three years for this transition. If you're in the early stages of seeking certification when the standard changes, it's important to verify which version of the standard you'll be certified for.

Because AS9100 is based directly on ISO 9001, you won't need to seek separate ISO certification if you're certified to AS9100 standards. AS9100 certification innately includes ISO 9001.

Individual Opportunities in Certification

Certification is for businesses only, not individuals, though even a sole proprietor can choose to become certified if there's a business case to be made. Individuals with a stake in the aerospace sector, or with a background in aerospace and/or quality management, can train as auditors and play a role in the certification process.

As third-party auditors, they can work for one of the training and certification organizations or offer their services directly to companies that either want to become ISO/SAE certified or are already certified but wish to monitor their processes ongoingly to ensure compliance.