Part 23: The Massive, much awaited revision is hereinitial observations on innovative GA aircraft certification by FAA

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Part 23

The FAA released on March 9, 2016 a much anticipated Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, entitled the Revision of Airworthiness Standards for Normal, Utility, Acrobatic and Commuter Category Airplanes. Included in the press release is an 8 minute video in which the Administrator, the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, industry leaders and foreign representatives present their perspectives why the new Part 23 makes sense.

[It looks like the interviews were taken during the EAA AirVenture®, which was 6 months ago?]

The proposal is the first systematic revision of the GA plane certification standards, 14 CFR Part 23, since its original “codification” of the CAR standards in 1964. As noted in the preamble, the history of the evolution of this certification has been an accretion of rules/standards/criteria in response to specific problems.

It was declared that it was time to take a fresh look at how the FAA (and many other CAAs) will perform this critical safety function of certification of these smaller aircraft. The collective wisdom of all involved in developing the new and improved Part 23 was that the tenor of that regulatory regime was to move from “prescriptive,” detailed requirements to performance-based airworthiness standards. The new regulation would delete current weight- and propulsion-derived categories Part 23 with a single performance- and risk-based parts for airplanes of 19 passengers seats or less and with a maximum takeoff weight of  no greater 19,000 pounds.

[For folks who follow the FAA’s regulatory philosophies, this new concept is reminiscent of Associate Administrator for Aviation Standards Walter Luffsey, who introduced in the 1980s the concept of “regulation by objective” in recognition that compliance could take many valid forms. His novel idea was beyond the vision of many at that time.]

faa part 23 nrpm ga

The document is 283 pages long; so much time will be required to see whether the proposed text, in fact, accomplishes the goals of the industry, foreign CAAs and the senior FAA management sought to “reduce the time it takes to get safety enhancing technologies for small airplanes into the marketplace while also reducing cost.”

Its promulgation is most notable for a number of reasons:

  • It has been gestating almost ten years.
  • It was the subject of two statutes (FAMRA and SARA) exhorting the FAA to expedite the issuance of these rules.
  • It represents that work of one of the most impressive, international and inclusive ARCs.
  • It reverses a regulatory postulate established by Secretary Pena in 1995 labeled “One Level of Safety” and announced a “safety continuum philosophy” in which “…one level of safety may not be appropriate for all aviation. The FAA accepts higher levels of risk, with correspondingly fewer requirements for the demonstration of compliance, when aircraft are used for personal transportation.
  • As mentioned by some of the private sector commenters in the Video, now that the rules have been released, there may be some question whether the field staff charged with implementing the new “performance-based” standard will be able to revise their regulatory perspective
    • from a process of dialectical submission of data by the TC proponent and FAA review
    • to a more collaborative mechanism in which the TC applicant and the regulators assess the safety risks of the design and then work toward a testing program with the assistance of ATSM.
  • The lengthy history of this NPRM is unusual in that the work product of the Certification Process Study/ Part 23 Regulatory Review/Part 23 ARC efforts was thorough, extremely well-written and by all accounts ready for publication. In spite of that extensive preparation of what was considered to be a final project, the staff took over two years to issue an NPRM. To add to the curious delay, Congress passed FAMRA and SARA urging that the rule be promulgated, thus
    • adding some credibility to the inference (noted in the video) that the staff is resisting the new concept.
  • While the general theme is to become less prescriptive, the NPRM includes two new specific criteria. The Part 23 applicant must demonstrate the aircraft’s design as it relates to Loss of Control and Super-cooled Large Drop Icing.

Quotes from the press releases summarize the introduction of the new Part 23 and industry reactions:

  • Secretary Foxx:

faa part 23 nprm innovation“This proposal would improve safety, reduce costs, and leverage innovation to ensure the highest level of safety is designed and built into small airplanes…General aviation is vital to the U.S. economy, and this proposal would benefit manufacturers, pilots, and the general aviation community as a whole.”

  • Administrator Huerta:

faa part 23 huerta“This proposal would streamline how we approve new technologies for small piston-powered airplanes all the way to complex high-performance executive jets…The FAA’s collaboration with industry and international partners reflects a performance-based, flexible approach which would accommodate today’s rapidly changing aviation industry and technological advances now and in the future.”

  • GAMA President and CEO:

“With today’s issuance of the NPRM, GAMA commends the FAA for taking the next important step toward revitalizing the outdated rules that govern small airplane design and alterations. This proposal is the result of nearly a decade of work by the entire aviation community, and is critical to fulfilling the objectives of the Small Airplane Revitalization Act, which the U.S. Congress passed unanimously and President Obama signed into law in 2013. We especially appreciate the continued support of members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for this vital rule, which will help improve general aviation safety and bolster the piston, turboprop, and light jet market, as well as remove barriers to certification for new technologies such as electric and hybrid propulsion.

faa part 23 nprm‘GAMA member companies and staff have spent countless hours working with the FAA to evolve the current requirements to better embrace new technologies and facilitate future innovations. Going forward, it will be critical that the public and key aviation stakeholders respond quickly with meaningful comments and for the FAA to engage with other global aviation authorities, so a well-harmonized and effective final rule can be issued by the current administration. If they do so, the FAA, through its leadership, can put in place a lasting legacy that will benefit general aviation safety and the vitality of the general aviation industry for decades to come.”

[emphasis added]

The “performance-based” regime for GA aircraft draws many parallels with the SMS process on the operating side of the FAA. If the implementation of this revised part is successful, it will be interesting to see how quickly this performance-based philosophy is applied to Part 25, the commercial aircraft standard.

Further, this prominent statement of the “safety continuum” philosophy is an interesting rearticulation of the old Pena philosophy. Whether and how that relative risk tolerance is applied in other contexts will be carefully tracked.


Press Release: FAA Proposes Rule to Overhaul Safety Certification Standards
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