Smaller Airplane Designs get Big FAA news, some of its fuzzy

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Two little noticed FAA actions merit greater recognition than they will likely receive. One involves the future standards by which General Aviation aircraft will be tested and the second article explains that a German developer of Light Sport Aircraft met an FAA inspection. While both involve good news, each has its puzzling aspect.

The big commercial airliners, certificated under 14 CFR Part 25, draw most of the attention from the press. The smaller birds, which are measured by 14 CFR Part 23 (GA) or FAA Order 8130.2H (LSA), tend to attract greater technical innovation and creative design. For example, Bert Rutan and his GA designs really pioneered the use of composites as major structural elements.

faa small airplanes

Rarely is a pending NPRM the subject of one or even two Hill hearings; revised Part 23’s glacier-like movement has been the topic of three. At a recent Senate convocation the Administrator committed to a final issuance of the revised certification standards by no later than 12/31/15. No such document has hit the Federal Register by the date of this post.

While the FAA’s new rule has gestated, others have been moving this new approach to reviewing and approving these smaller aircraft. EASA, which participated in the committee assigned to the original concept, has taken steps towards implementation. Even more promising is the EASA initiation of a test case for a GA Type Certificate application using the new methodology.

Industry, in particular ASTM (an organization which sets standards, particularly engineering-based), convened a group of experts and they developed one of the technical elements for the new Part 23. A new ASTM F3114 addresses the structural requirements that apply to all portions of the airframe regardless of component, system, or structure. Unlike past ASTMs written for certification, this document permits the standards to evolve as the technology advances. The five page ASTM document costs $44. This will provide a foundation for the new Part 23, when (not if) it is finally promulgated.

The second link below is about another effort by the FAA to encourage low cost new SMALL aircraft design (the standards limit the weight of the LSA to between 1,230 and 1,430 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight). As Order 8130.2H makes clear the manufacture is neither subject to Type (design) Certification nor Production (QA/QC). This “liberal” approach to these lighter aircraft might stimulate the design and creation of a generation of exciting new birds. As of this fall, 170 LSAs have been acknowledged by the FAA.

Guidance has been issued (a first stab at regulating?) and the FAA has accepted in 2014 a set of ASTM standards. Somewhat conflicting with Order 8130.2H apparent “deregulation,” the inspectors began a program of audits. The results of these inspections indicated that the documentation of these uncertificated manufacturers were deficient. The FAA’s oversight may have sapped some of this segment’s energy.

faa small airplanes

The below article reveals that a German LSA manufacturer (the most successful LSA producer through the first full decade of Light-Sport Aircraft when measured in aircraft delivered to the American market [approaching 400 units]). The #1 seller of this type of vehicle had passed the FAA “document inspection” process. After a 9 man day audit of the Flight Design facilities, which included a review of its QA system, no problems were found. The company’s press release indicated that the FAA found Flight Design in compliance – sounds very regulatory.

The FAA needs to figure out exactly whether LSAs are not subject to TC or PC regulation and what these “reviews” mean.

Getting a set of ASTM criteria is real progress; the absence of a final Part 23 rule is perplexing and perverted. The approval of a LSA’s documentation is a good sign (someone can meet the FAA’s standards), but some clarity is needed as to whether the regulator is taking a hands off or hands off approach.


ARTICLE: New ASTM Standard to Support Technology, Design and Safety of Small Airplanes

ARTICLE: Flight Design Confirms Approval Through FAA Audit

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