You Have Choices A Guided Tour of Options for Aircraft Certification

--by Susan Parson, FAA Safety Briefing

When it comes to GA airplanes, having choices wasn’t always the case.

At the time I started learning to fly in the early 1990s, the typical flight school fleet offered a choice between an old GA airplane and an older one. Nobody was making new GA airplanes for the training and recreational/personal aviation market, because the combination of product liability concerns and the high cost of certification created too many barriers.

GARA Starts the Growth

Things started to change after passage of the 1994 General Aviation Revitalization Act, a landmark piece of legislation that paved the way for Cessna and other manufacturers to restart production of small general aviation aircraft. Four years later, new versions of the venerable Cessna C172 Skyhawk began to appear. (Note: To honor the pilot who most ardently championed GARA, the first 100 new Skyhawks bore the letters “ES” at the end of the tail number. For more on this backstory, see page 32 of the Jan/Feb 2010 PDF issue of this magazine at go.usa.gov/xEx6N.)

The introduction of “clean sheet” airframe designs from new companies like Cirrus and Diamond soon followed, along with the advent of “glass cockpit” avionics and highly capable autopilots for GA airplanes.

Light-Sport Launches Expansion

Implementation of the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft rules in the summer of 2004 marked yet another watershed in the expansion of available aircraft choices. We all learned about “ASTM consensus standards,” and added acronyms like S-LSA (Special Light Sport Aircraft) and E-LSA (Experimental Light Sport Aircraft) to the aviation lexicon. We also learned to recognize and appreciate the incredible diversity these aircraft brought to the formerly forlorn fleet of aircraft for GA training and personal flying.

But wait — there’s more. The safety and technological advances these new designs brought to both airframes and avionics helped drive several more recent developments.

After extensive consultation and collaboration between government and industry through the General Aviation Joint Steering Committee, in 2014 the FAA simplified the design approval requirements for installing angle of attack (AOA) indicators into GA aircraft cockpits. The success of this initiative led the FAA to expand this approach to a broader range of equipment.

Published in July 2016, the FAA’s Non-Required Safety Enhancing Equipment (NORSEE) policy includes avionics, electronic instruments, displays, and mechanical equipment for 14 CFR parts 23, 27, and 29 aircraft. Equipment approved as NORSEE can enhance overall situational awareness and provide a range of information such as data, other than the aircraft primary system; independent warning, cautionary, or advisory indications; and additional occupant safety protection. Examples of NORSEE equipment include traffic advisory systems, terrain awareness and warning systems; attitude indicators; fire extinguishing systems; and autopilot or stability augmentation systems.

The Big One — Part 23 Reform

The next, and most recent, change in the aircraft certification landscape took place in August 2017, when the final rule overhauling airworthiness standards for general aviation airplanes took effect. With this rule, a substantial overhaul of 14 CFR part 23, the FAA intends to enable faster installation of innovative, safety-enhancing technologies into small airplanes, while reducing costs for the aviation industry. The performance-based standards approach in this rule recognizes that there is more than one way to deliver on safety, and it offers a way for industry and the FAA to collaborate on new and existing technologies and to keep pace with evolving aviation designs and concepts.

A Guided Tour

The number of options now available to aircraft owners (and potential owners) can be bewildering, so this issue of FAA Safety Briefing aims to offer a guided tour of this exciting landscape. In addition to taking a closer look at some of the topics described above, we will also review the more traditional areas (e.g., supplemental type certificates, field approvals) that may still be necessary in some cases. We invite you to join us on this journey!

Read Our Feature Articles Below

The Quiet Revolution

What Part 23 Changes Mean for You

Seeing NORSEE Benefits

How This Innovative FAA Safety Enhancement Program Is Performing

The Transformation of Certification

Adopting Consensus Standards for Light-Sport Aircraft

Legally Aloft

Review of Aircraft Certificates

Be a “Part” of Improving Aviation Safety

A Look at Suspected Unapproved Parts

Susan Parson (susan.parson@faa.gov) is editor of FAA Safety Briefing and a Special Assistant in the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. She is an active general aviation pilot and flight instructor.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.

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FAA Safety Team

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