The FAA moved to the use of consensus standards not only to leverage existing industry experience, but also to provide a less costly and less restrictive means for certification, increase the level of safety of these aircraft, close gaps in previous regulations, and create a means to accommodate new aircraft designs.
Applying consensus standards to the process creates flexibility, improves process efficiency, reduces cost for the manufacturer and consumer, and enhances safety. In fact, some would argue that the success of the LSA rule inspired the recent re-write of part 23 to use consensus standards as well.
Sounds great, right? But what exactly are these consensus standards? How do they work? Do they really save money? And how does their use enhance safety?
A Sense of Consensus
In a nutshell, industry-developed consensus standards set the guidelines for a product. They’ve been around for a long time, and are widely used today in almost all U.S. industries.
If you’ve ever owned a mechanical tool set with SAE and metric tools, then you’re already familiar with consensus standards. SAE International (formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers), develops technical standards for tools, equipment, and even horsepower ratings for the automotive industry.
In the aviation industry, Congress and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) mandated the use of consensus standards. OMB Circular A-119 directed agencies “to use voluntary consensus standards, in lieu of government-unique standards, … to eliminate the government’s cost in developing standards, to decrease the cost of goods, and to promote efficiency and economic competition through the harmonization of standards.”
To facilitate the development of standards for S-LSA and E-LSA kit aircraft, the industry chose ASTM International (formerly, American Society for Testing and Materials), a not-for-profit organization that is one of the largest voluntary standards developing organizations in the world.
The Creation of Consensus
ASTM serves as a forum for technical committees that develop and maintain standards. The technical committees are comprised of experts and industry members that work together on a consensus basis to develop these standards.
Technical Committee F37 on Light-Sport Aircraft established the first set of consensus standards for the 2004 LSA rule. Today, we recognize the F37 Committee as the standards developing body for S-LSA and E-LSA kit aircraft. Approximately 175 volunteers, including stakeholders, FAA representatives, and consumers meet twice a year to develop and maintain standards in design, performance, quality acceptance testing, and safety monitoring.
A Standard is Born
The committee reviews the proposed standards it develops and then takes a vote for approval. Any negative votes require written settlement, with final approval of all draft standards by consensus, i.e., general agreement. And, voila! A new or revised set of standards is created and ready for publishing.