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June 9, 2010
By Sarah Brown
An FAA assessment of 30 light sport aircraft facilities has concluded that many do not have the procedures in place to demonstrate their compliance with certain consensus standards.
The now close to six-year-old light sport industry relies on FAA-accepted industry standards for the certification of aircraft. These consensus standards allow the industry to certify with less regulatory involvement from the FAA, which reduces cost, but the FAA’s assessment concluded that industry and FAA designees didn’t fully understand all of the requirements for the new process and didn’t properly document the steps. The industry is currently developing an audit standard to ensure that manufacturers have a clear path to establishing their aircraft’s compliance.
Current consensus standards designate requirements for the end product, but they do not lay out process control procedures for arriving at that result. By setting criteria for manufacturers’ annual audits, the industry’s audit standard could address many of the concerns raised by the FAA and ensure quality and safety for the customer.
“The growing light sport segment is important for the future of general aviation, so it’s imperative that manufacturers put a process in place to ensure the safety of light sport aircraft for the short and long term health of the industry,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs.
The FAA team evaluated 14 manufacturers, including their extensions, and 16 distributors from September 2008 through March 2009 to get a sample representative of the LSA industry as a whole. While the report describes problems with the facilities’ manufacturing process procedures and understanding of certain regulatory requirements, it acknowledges that the shortfalls were not for lack of effort: “The assessment survey participants were cooperative and provided unrestricted access to their LSA facilities. They exhibited a willingness and desire to build and promote safe LSA.”
However well-intentioned, “The majority of LSA facilities could not demonstrate their ability to comply with certain consensus standards,” the report concludes. It identifies areas for improvement in implementing and documenting manufacturing systems, understanding requirements, and communicating how to comply with those requirements.
Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association President Dan Johnson calls the report “tough love” for a young industry.
“There’s a suggestion in what they say that they will need to continue to do more oversight of the industry unless the industry does it itself,” Johnson said. He added that the relatively new industry has already taken steps to address these “rocks in the pathway.” LAMA is working with the Experimental Aircraft Association to develop a website for all LSA service bulletins, safety alerts, and service difficulty reports, and the association is also offering an external audit program, he said. The industry standards being developed by an ASTM group will provide a methodology for both internal and external audits, he added.
Johnson noted that the report only cites one safety of flight issue, which was dealt with quickly, and that manufacturers have welcomed FAA input.
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