According to Straub, the most valuable aspect of the rule change is the replacement of prescriptive requirements with standards more proportional to the actual risk involved with light airplanes. “For example, requirements such as those related to HIRF [high-intensity radiated field] and lightning, and which affect light GA very differently than transport category aircraft, have been revised to focus on safety objectives. This further streamlines the approval and certification process for Garmin.”
Straub also explained that the rewrite opens great opportunity. “As I’ve shared by our example, the industry is already benefiting,” he said. “The full benefit will take time, particularly for aircraft manufacturers to create aircraft designs that raise the safety bar by complying with regulations in innovative ways that were previously discouraged.”
Garmin is only one prominent example of how this change can enable innovation, improve cost, and more importantly, enhance safety.
Improving Situational Awareness
One of the more interesting concepts that the new part 23 enhanced is EZ Fly. EZ Fly is an exciting program to improve GA safety by leveraging technology to create an intuitive user interface that reduces pilot workload. To translate that into a less academic parlance, the idea is to use increased automation to move the pilot’s limited attention away from immediate mechanical tasks and toward overall management of the flight. This approach could dramatically improve situational awareness and provide more mental bandwidth for aeronautical decision-making.
The EZ Fly concept combines a number of components including sensors, control laws, displays, and a simplified pilot interface with full envelope protection. One of the key concepts is Advanced Flight Control Systems (AFCS). AFCS are more than just fly-by-wire (FBW) systems. AFCS blend aircraft stabilization (such as stability augmentation) with basic aircraft control. But accomplishing that goal requires researching a number of supporting technologies and making them economically viable for GA. This is a joint effort by the FAA, NASA, academia, and industry and is no small task. The expected outcome is not a discrete system or set of components, but a MOC that would allow manufacturers to use these systems in future projects.
EZ Fly is also part of a larger effort called Simplified Vehicle Operations (SVO). SVO has an end goal of fully automated flight operations, which has great potential to address key safety issues such as Loss of Control. But there are a number of challenges between where we are today and that goal. EZ Fly may offer a step toward that end state. Part 23 is an important enabler of not only this research and development, but also the technology’s eventual integration into finished products.
The Flight Path
The foundation has been firmly laid. The regulations are now in place to facilitate the future. Research is underway to enable introduction of technology. As noted, it will take time for the benefits to work their way to the average pilot. Rest assured, though, that the creativity unleashed in this quiet revolution will likely lead to solutions nobody saw coming. We may not know exactly what that tomorrow will look like — but that’s part of the excitement. Stay tuned!
James Williams is FAA Safety Briefing’s associate editor and photo editor. He is also a pilot and ground instructor.
This article was originally published in the May/June 2019 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine.