The ultra-long-range Gulfstream G650 is expected to receive FAA certification this year, as originally predicted in the timeline for the program when it was unveiled. Certification of the G650 will take place in two stages, with provisional certification this year followed by issuance of the full type certificate early next year. Deliveries will begin in the second quarter of 2012, according Gulfstream Aerospace president Larry Flynn, who spoke at NBAA 2011 last month.
“Provisional type certification [PTC] allows us to begin inducting G650s into final-phase completions and stay on track for customer deliveries in the second quarter of 2012,” Scott Neal, Gulfstream senior vice president of sales and marketing, told AIN (via emailed responses to AIN’s questions).
According to Gulfstream, its sales contracts allow for the recognition of a provisional type certificate as meeting certification milestones. Neal added: “Contracts are confidential, but PTC allows us to maintain our promised delivery dates to customers and our commitment to 10 to 12 green deliveries this year.”
Provisional Certification Is Nothing New
The FAA created the provisional type certificate system as the jet age dawned, to help airlines begin training crews and learning how to operate these complex new aircraft during the final stages of certification before flying passengers. “Provisional certification is like a mini contract between the FAA and the OEM saying, ‘Yep, you’re close, we’re committed to finishing up and getting the [full] type certification,’” the FAA’s Susan Cabler, assistant manager of the Aircraft Engineering Division of the Aircraft Certification Service, told AIN during an earlier interview.
Manufacturers do have to prove to the FAA that “the airplane is safe for flight and meets the airworthiness standards appropriate for its proposed type certification basis,” according to the FAA. But the manufacturer is allowed to disable some systems awaiting final approval during the provisional period, and the provisional type certificate will list those systems and limitations.
Provisional certification is not new to the business aviation world or Gulfstream, which employed the process during certification of the GV (1996) and the G550 (2002). Raytheon Aircraft obtained provisional type certification of the Hawker 4000 in 2004 and Cessna’s Citation Sovereign received provisional certification in 2003. Eclipse Aviation highlighted the contrast between provisional certification and full certification when then-CEO Vern Raburn held a press conference with then-FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and acting secretary of transportation Maria Cino on July 27, 2006, at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh show to announce “certification” of the Eclipse 500 very light jet. Items that remained pending were mostly avionics-related but crucial to full functionality of the twin-engine VLJ. Brazilian regulators awarded provisional certification to the Embraer E170 in 2003, and Australia also employs the provisional certification process.
According to Neal, “Provisional type certification has been common in general aviation development programs over the last 15 years. Typically these PTCs have been issued as manufacturers await software updates.”
Asked whether the crash of a flight-test G650 in April was a factor in the decision to seek provisional certification, Neal explained, “The possibility of pursuing PTC was envisioned early in the program as a possible tool for maintaining schedule. At this point it makes sense to go that route to induct aircraft into our completions center. You might be interested to know that five production aircraft have flown as of this date and are ready to begin the completions process. As the test program progressed, our confidence grew that we could achieve PTC objectives, especially regarding the establishment of a baseline configuration acceptable to the FAA and permitting us to begin completions.”
Systems that need final tweaking for full certification are avionics software-related, according to Neal. “Until avionics software is matured beyond PTC the FMS, autopilot, auto-throttle and HUD/EVS will be inoperative.”
During the provisional certification period, he added, “We will continue to fly at slightly higher rotation and climb speeds pending further runway performance testing that will be conducted after PTC. The rest of the altitude and speed envelope is finalized.”
Gulfstream has orders for about 200 G650s and delivery dates extend into 2017. Flight-test hours have grown to more than 2,000 in more than 600 flights, and the OEM says the G650 has successfully demonstrated high-speed performance and long-range flight projections.