The Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) report on recommended changes to general aviation aircraft certification regulations has been released, just in time for the opening of this year’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh show on July 29. And, in what appears to be encouraging support from the federal government, new Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx expressed support for the recommendations. “Streamlining the design and certification process could provide a cost-efficient way to build simple airplanes that still incorporate the latest in safety innovations,” he said. “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.”
The ARC recommendations are aimed at developing a more sensible method of certifying not only new Part 23 aircraft, but also aftermarket modifications. The regulations should be performance-based, “focusing on the complexity and performance of an aircraft instead of the current regulations based on weight and type of propulsion,” according to the FAA. “Under many of the existing Part 23 requirements, small, relatively simple airplanes have to meet the same regulatory requirements as more complex aircraft.”
Like the light sport aircraft category, the new certification regulations should be based on consensus standards, the ARC recommended, which makes keeping up with new technology much simpler. The FAA agrees that it would be able to retain its oversight duties while encouraging innovation under the ARC-recommended scheme. The agency said that it “will review the ARC recommendations as it decides how to proceed on improving general aviation safety.”
The ARC consists of 55 representatives from industry associations, aircraft manufacturers from around the world and FAA and other countries’ regulators, including those from Europe, Brazil, China, Canada and New Zealand. Other countries are working with the FAA to harmonize the regulatory process so that there can be more standardization between countries and less time spent on unnecessary certification processes.
For aircraft that are already Part 23 certified, the ARC’s recommendations for retrofitting the latest equipment could have a profound impact on safety. Under current regulations, all avionics installed in a Part 23-certified airplane must meet FAAtechnical standard order (TSO) standards, which costs manufacturers an enormous amount of time and money to accomplish and thus makes many modern products unavailable to owners of older aircraft. But lower-cost and perfectly safe and capable non-TSO’d avionics, which can be installed in experimental airplanes, cannot be used to retrofit a certified airplane. “We look at the cool stuff [avionics manufacturers] are making for experimental [aircraft],” said Greg Bowles, director of engineering and manufacturing for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association “There are not great answers why you can’t [install experimental avionics in a certified airplane].”
Bowles is encouraged by the FAA’s response to the ARC’s recommendations. “At the technical level everybody sees the benefit,” he said. “They agree it makes sense to get the rules out of the way of progress. But it’s going to take lot of resources to do a rule change. We want to make sure they prioritize that and do it.”
So far, the U.S. Congress has passed a bill that set a deadline—Dec. 31, 2015–for the FAAto act on the ARC recommendations, and a Senate bill has been introduced. Legislative action might speed up an FAA rulemaking, which is notoriously lengthy and difficult. The bonus for this particular rulemaking is that if the ARC recommendations are implemented, future rulemakings won’t be needed, just relatively simpler changes to the consensus standards that will govern Part 23 certification.