A broad-based and international FAA-industry committee is working to simplify Part 23 of the Federal Aviation Regulations in a way that doubles aircraft safety while reducing costs by as much as 50 percent.
The potential new rules will also serve as a new international set of standards for aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds.
An FAA spokeswoman calls the process “vexing” but nevertheless expects the 55-member Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) to have final recommendations ready for FAA consideration early next year. The ARC is co-chaired by Greg Bowles, director of engineering and manufacturing for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Pat Mullen of the FAA’s small airplane directorate. Members include representatives of most major OEMs as well as aircraft regulators from Brazil, Canada, China, Europe and New Zealand. Bowles said “the stars are aligned” to reform Part 23 now.
The initiative already has bipartisan political support. Earlier this year, as part of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress directed the FAA to review the aircraft certification approval process, including Part 23 (Section 312). It comes as the number of U.S. private pilots falls to a 50-year low of less than 200,000, and the price of introductory aircraft continues to climb.
GAMA points out that between 1994 and 1996 more than 800 changes were made to Part 23, largely to address complex aircraft such as today’s entry-level twinjets. This had the consequence of dramatically increasing the cost of simpler, entry-level aircraft, subsequently accelerating the cost of flight training and fueling the decline in active pilots. According to GAMA, the cost of the average Part 23 four-seat single-engine aircraft increased from $74,000 in 1990 to $181,000 in 2000. The Part 23 ARC wants to bring more flexibility to the FARs when it comes to the certification of simple aircraft and aircraft systems. Even complex Part 23 aircraft are not immune to regulatory creep as more Part 25 standards migrate downstream.
Avionics maker Avidyne is participating in the ARC, and CEO Dan Schwinn calls it “One of the most important initiatives that is going on in aviation. I’ve been amazed at how serious all the players are about really changing the game as it exists today and I am hopeful that this will result in a significant improvement in the regulatory structure. It’s about better safety and lower costs.” Schwinn said that by the time the ARC’s final package is crafted into a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) it’s going to be “a pretty radical change to what we have now and will make good business.” OEMs on the ARC, including Cessna, Diamond, Hawker Beechcraft and Icon, “have guys who are working on this full-time and are really doing some great, creative work,” he added.
The ARC is formally meeting every 60 days but its member committee working groups collaborate almost continuously. They include the steering committee and working groups for alterations and maintenance, type/production certification and regulatory structure. The latter includes subgroups for flight test, propulsion, structures and systems.
Exactly what structure the final proposed rule takes remains the topic of speculation: Will Part 23 be divided into slices or will rules for aircraft parallel the pilot requirements necessary to fly them? When asked about the latter, the FAA spokeswoman would say only, “You are on the right path.”
The ARC’s mission will extend beyond drafting recommended regulations for new aircraft, said Rob Hackman, AOPA vice president of regulatory and certification affairs. “Yes, we want to cut down the time it takes to certify new aircraft,” Hackman said. “But we also want to figure out how we can get equipment onto new and existing aircraft that can really enhance the safety of those airplanes. It really has broad support across the industry.”
Hackman agrees with most ARC members that applying a weight standard to certification is no longer relevant. “The weight of an aircraft does not determine its complexity. A Cessna Caravan is a pretty basic airplane, and turbine-powered aircraft are actually easier to operate [than piston-engine aircraft]. We need a rule that is more appropriate to what is out there in the market and what people want to bring to market.”
He said early industry input in the rulemaking process can achieve what, on the surface, appears to be the conflicting goal of increasing safety and reducing costs. Hackman also pointed to the use of consensus standards, similar in structure to those adopted for light sport aircraft, as a way of ensuring that the latest technology can be incorporated on Part 23 aircraft more quickly. “Those can be updated much more frequently, to the point where you could go beyond keeping up with technology to the point of actually encouraging advancements in it. The regulations today really don’t encourage as much as they discourage” advancements, he said.
GAMA’s Bowles said the new rule recommendations likely would offer a flexible menu of options for aircraft and component manufacturers to “align common sense with what someone can actually sell the product for and will allow all kinds of airplanes to exist that have never existed before.”
Under such a climate, Bowles said that a hypothetical manufacturer that wanted to build an aircraft with simple structure, but complex avionics, would choose from the appropriate menu of separate rules for simple structure and complex avionics. However, if the manufacturer wanted to build a simple aerostructure with basic avionics, other rule menus would apply. He said the goals of increasing safety and decreasing costs are attainable, because 90 percent of all accidents are caused by pilot error, not aircraft design. “We have the technology to easily address [pilot error] problems today. But it is so difficult to certify them to the robustness that has been historically required. So no one can afford to do retrofits. Once we can affordably put some of these products [Tcas, EGPWS and so on] in the existing fleet, safety is going to shoot through the roof.”