After nearly a decade in the making, the U.S. FAA on December 16 issued its comprehensive rewrite of Part 23, setting in motion an entirely new approach to certifying small airplanes and products. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, flanked by the heads of three general aviation manufacturers, announced the release of the new rule during a press conference at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., saying it will “usher in a new era of safety and a new era of innovation in general aviation in the U.S.”
The rule, which takes effect in eight months, moves the FAA away from its long history of establishing detailed prescriptive standards for new products to a performance-based approach under which the agency establishes the performance objectives for new products and gives the manufacturer flexibility on how it meets those objectives.
“There’s a simple idea at the heart of our new airworthiness standards: we don’t want to tell manufacturers how to build things,” Huerta said. “Instead of requiring certain technologies or designs, we’re defining the performance objectives we want to achieve.”
This approach, he said, represents a “fundamental shift in how the FAA approaches certification,” but a shift that he said is critical in increasing the U.S.'s role in innovation.
“This rule…is an exciting breakthrough for the aviation industry and our economy as a whole,” he said, noting that general aviation contributes $80 billion and 400,000 jobs to the nation's economy.
The rule applies to aircraft that weigh less than 19,000 pounds and with 19 or fewer seats. It opens the door for the use of standards established by an international ASTM committee, F44. More than 300 people representing aviation authorities from seven countries, manufacturers, design specialists and a range of other interested parties are part of the ASTM committee. In the past three years alone, that committee has agreed upon 21 standards and is ready to review its next set of technologies.
Manufacturers, however, wishing to protect proprietary intellectual property, can also work directly with the FAA to establish standards and meet performance objectives.
The rule provides flexibility on testing requirements, as long as the ultimate performance objective is met, noted Dorenda Baker, director of the FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service. Baker added that the rule will cut down on the number of special conditions required, since those conditions are designed to provide an alternate means of compliance to prescriptive standards.
General Aviation Manufacturers Association chairman and Piper Aircraft CEO Simon Caldecott, who participated in the December 16 press conference alongside Huerta, called the rule a model of good rulemaking. “This rule will allow Piper Aircraft to bring new safety-enhancing technologies and aircraft to our customer base without being held back by outdated…regulations.”
Hartzell Propeller president Joe Brown added that the previous regulations limited the ability for general aviation startups to get in the market, but the rule paves the way for new entrants. From an operator’s standpoint, he noted the rule will clear the way for the ability to obtain new safety technologies that are more readily available to the experimental community, which does not face the same certification requirements. “As a pilot I am positive the rate of innovation it is going to make aircraft more attractive to the customer base. It’s going to differentiate new from used,” he said, adding, “I see this as a jobs creator.”
Also appearing at the press conference was Brad Mottier, GE Aviation’s vice president and general manager for business and general aviation and integrated systems, who noted that the pace of technology is rapidly advancing and the rule will better equip the FAA to keep up with that. He cited additive manufacturing, electric and hybrid propulsion as areas that could advance more quickly. The rule, Mottier added, “is a testament to what we can accomplish when government and industry work hand in hand.”
Huerta agreed with this, and noted that people within the agency are “wildly enthusiastic” about the changes, because “we are all frustrated by how long" change takes.
But he also acknowledged that the rulemaking “was a huge undertaking, truly one of the most extensive and challenging rewrites ever tackled by our agency.”
“Today is truly a landmark day for the general aviation industry,” GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce said of the release of the rule. “The rule is nothing less than a total rethinking of how our industry can bring new models of pistons diesels, turboprops, light jets and new electric and hybrid propulsion to market.”
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) president Mark Baker called the rule “perhaps the most significant and pivotal” reform for the future of general aviation aircraft. But he also stressed that AOPA continues to seek reforms ease the approval process for retrofits.
While the rule will take eight months to take effect, Huerta and Baker said the agency has been moving toward a more performance-based approach and many of the elements already are in motion. Huerta added that he expects the rule to serve as a template for other certification areas, such as Part 27 governing helicopters.
Along with the new changes to the certification process, the final rule adopts additional standards for flight in icing conditions and other standards designed to help mitigate loss-of-control events, including enhanced stall characteristics and minimum control speed requirements.