Tiered certification could curb aircraft cost

August 24, 2011

An effort to revamp aircraft certification could allow manufacturers of simpler general aviation aircraft to bring models to market more quickly and cheaply.

The FAA on Aug. 22 announced that it will convene an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) to review and make recommendations for rewriting aircraft certification standards. The ARC members will be tasked with determining the best way to move Part 23 of the federal aviation regulations (which governs the aircraft certification process for many aircraft flown in GA) from weight and propulsion-based certification standards to aircraft complexity and performance-based standards. The committee also will address recommendations to make it easier to install safety-enhancing equipment in older airplanes.

The ARC will build on recommendations from a 2008 study of aircraft certification in which AOPA and other industry groups participated. The team called for a certification process that better reflected the range of performance and complexity in today’s fleet.  

One recommendation is that Part 23 be reorganized to include a tiered certification process. In the past two decades, the FAA wrote in the ARC charter, Part 23 has shifted toward more complex, high performance aircraft, placing a burden on the certification of simpler airplanes. The ARC will determine how the GA fleet should be segmented. That could mean that the certification burden for a lower performance, less complex aircraft might be simpler and less costly than for a high performance, highly complex aircraft.

“Such a move could be good news for manufacturers and consumers alike, and we appreciate the FAA’s willingness to take action on the earlier industry recommendations,” said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs. “The certification process is a sizeable portion of the cost of bringing a new aircraft to market. Such a tiered certification process could reduce what manufacturers must pay to design and build a basic aircraft, and those lower design costs might mean a reduced per-unit cost for consumers.”

Tailoring the certification to the type of aircraft also could open the door for light sport aircraft manufacturers, which adhere to industry consensus standards, to step up to the lower end of the Part 23 market.

Another recommendation the ARC will address is to make it easier to install safety equipment such as ballistic parachutes and inflatable restraints in older aircraft. The FAA expects the Part 23 revisions to make it easier for such modifications to be certified.

Once the ARC is formed, it will have 18 months to issue its report to the FAA’s Small Aircraft Directorate. That term could be extended an additional six months if the manager of the directorate determines additional time is needed.