FAA Eyes Tougher Safety Rules for Small Private Aircraft
March 16, 2016
  • Share
  • Federal regulators have proposed tighter safety standards for future high-powered private planes, as part of a rewrite of certification rules for all general aviation aircraft.

    Drafted after years of industry-government studies and recommendations, the package seeks to replace decades-old regulations relying on weight and engine type with updated standards based on maximum speed and potential risk of various models.

    The proposal covers everything from the simplest, single-seat aircraft and light turboprops to high-performance executive jets and small commuter models seating up to 19 passengers. Some of the biggest proposed changes would enhance protection against ice buildup and aerodynamic stalls.

    The concepts have long been supported by many manufacturers and private pilot groups, partly because of the expectation of enhancing safety while reducing testing and compliance costs for future models.

    “High-performance and complex airplanes now exist within the weight range that historically was occupied by only light and simple airplanes,” according to the executive summary of the FAA document.

    The proposals also aim to make it easier and faster to retrofit existing general aviation aircraft with the latest safety technology.

    The proposed regulation, for instance, mentions that it would facilitate installation of “inexpensive weather display systems in the cockpits of small airplanes,” helping private pilots, often with limited experience, avoid “unexpected or deteriorating weather conditions.”

    Current rules, according to the FAA, also “do not account for airplanes equipped with new technologies, such as electric propulsion systems, which may have features that are entirely different from piston and turbine engines.”

    The specifics were published in the Federal Register Monday, five days after the FAA announced its decision to streamline approval of new safety technologies. The proposal is intended to follow 2013 congressional directives. It is open for public comment until mid-May, and could take years to become effective.

    “If the proposed rule saves only one human life, for example, by improving stall characteristics and stall warnings,” according to the FAA, “that alone would result in benefits outweighing the costs.”

    The FAA move comes as the Senate Commerce Committee is poised to vote on an FAA reauthorization bill Wednesday that, among other provisions, mandates streamlining the certification of new airplane models and calls for establishing performance objectives to measure progress.

    The new approach aims to enhance safety in general aviation by encouraging innovation and more effective designs, the proposal indicates. In addition, The agency said the proposal is intended to help provide leadership for common and consistent regulations and standards world-wide.

    One of the areas most likely to be affected is occupant safety. The new rules aim to provide manufacturers greater flexibility to target overall crash-worthiness, rather than focus on individual systems or components.