FAA: 'Innovation' the goal of aircraft certification reform

July 26, 2013

The FAA, vowing to “embrace innovation,” has released the report of an industry-led aviation rulemaking committee that recommends ways to overhaul small-aircraft certification rules to double safety and cut costs in half.

On July 26, the FAA released the report by its Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) following the panel’s 18-month study in which aviation authorities and industry representatives from around the world examined how to reform the regulatory environment for aircraft certification.

“Streamlining the design and certification process could provide a cost-efficient way to build simple airplanes that still incorporate the latest in safety innovations,” said recently confirmed Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These changes have the potential to save money and maintain our safety standing, a win-win situation for manufacturers, pilots and the general aviation community as a whole.”

AOPA, an active participant in the ARC process, welcomed the report’s release. The initiative to overhaul Part 23 was led by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

The Part 23 overhaul is also moving forward in Congress. Legislation sponsored and supported by many members of the congressional GA Caucus recently passed the House by a unanimous vote.

The ARC’s recommendations focus on replacing “prescriptive” and outdated rules with more flexible methods of producing new aircraft designs, and adding safety modifications to the working fleet.

That approach—an idea the FAA has publicly endorsed—is seen lifting the most serious cost carriers to investment in new designs.

“The committee’s goal was to increase safety while simultaneously decreasing the cost of certification,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “The FAA’s goal is to embrace innovation and create a regulation that will stand the test of time.”

Responding to new technology

Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory affairs, explained that adopting the recommendations will allow a path for current aircraft owners to install safety-enhancing devices.  Equipment such as angle-of-attack indicators, autopilots, and flight envelop protection could be installed without going through the overly prescriptive set of current regulations.    

“The current system often discourages aircraft owners from installing many of these safety enhancing devices due to costs, length of process, or simply because they are not currently allowable,” he said.

The ARC stressed that its recommendations would best succeed as a “complete package” to achieve the desired goal of doubling safety and halving certification compliance costs. Some of the cost savings would be realized by eliminating the need for certification applicants to use special approval procedures and other extraordinary measures to gain approvals, the panel said in an overview of its recommendations.

New airworthiness category proposed

A related recommendation was the creation of a new category of airworthiness certificate that would reset maintenance and alteration requirements of older aircraft not operated for hire at “a level more appropriate for a privately-owned vehicle.”

The following are highlights of recommended changes to Small Airplane Certification regulations.

    —Retaining Part 23’s performance-based safety objectives but moving “the prescriptive and technology dependent provisions or methods of compliance out of regulatory text and into FAA accepted consensus standards.”

    —Writing safety objectives broadly enough to address the full range of covered products and to remain “applicable to foreseeable and unforeseeable technologies over the next 20 years.”

    —Use FAA-accepted consensus standards as methods of compliance, and provide ways for applicants to propose methods which are not contained in the accepted standards.

    —Assure that accepted consensus standards offer methods of compliance “appropriate to the broad spectrum of airplanes and technologies governed by Part 23.”

    —Work with the international regulatory community to assure a “globally acceptable approach to certifying Part 23 airplanes.”

    —Assign high priority to the Part 23 rulemaking, allowing the reform’s benefits to be realized as soon as possible.

    —Develop a means to track information on the basis for certification for new and legacy airplanes, thereby streamlining the process for making alterations, and maintenance of the aircraft.

    —Expedite alterations involving non-required safety enhancing equipment, such as the incorporation of angle-of-attack indicators. 

    —Align “agency culture” in support of the new regulations.

The report also proposed several changes to the certification process, with numerous specific recommendations coordinated with the FAA’s Safety Management System (SMS)/Part 21 ARC that is now active.

It also urged the FAA to create a system for expanding preventive maintenance capabilities without a need to initiate a rulemaking process.