Approved for Flight
Certification of Light-Sport Aircraft Through the Use of Consensus Standards
by Scott L. Sedgwick
Light-sport aircraft are basic, uncomplicated aircraft intended for general aviation use. Many of these aircraft are registered (i.e., have N numbers), have U.S. Federal Aviation Administration-issued airworthiness certificates, and are flown by FAA certificated pilots. However, some are being operated as ultralight vehicles without these certifications. Ultralight vehicles cannot legally carry a second occupant. However, many light-sport aircraft that exceed the occupant and/or weight limitations of ultralight vehicles are operated under an FAA exemption that allows for use as ultralight training vehicles. While the exact number of these unregistered ultralight-like aircraft is not precisely known, it is estimated to be as high as 30,000.
For aircraft certification, the proposed rule contains provisions for the issuance of Airworthiness Certificates to two groups of light-sport aircraft. The first addresses the unregistered ultralight-like aircraft currently in use as ultralight-training vehicles. The second involves creating the regulatory structure to provide for the use of consensus airworthiness standards for the design and manufacture of ready-to-fly and kit aircraft. The consensus standards would provide for an appropriate level of safety for newly manufactured light-sport aircraft. The FAA considers this to be an increase in the level of safety, as current unregistered ultralight-like aircraft are not required to meet design and manufacturing standards.
The proposed rule provides a regulatory structure that allows an individual to be issued an FAA Airworthiness Certificate for their light-sport aircraft based largely upon a manufacturers certification of compliance to consensus standards. This new path to airworthiness certification is an additional pathno current rules are eliminated. Because it is an additional option, a manufacturer may also use any applicable certification path under the existing rules.
The proposed rule applies to ready-to-fly aircraft and to aircraft that have been assembled from an eligible light-sport aircraft kit. Ready-to-fly aircraft may be used for flight training and rental while aircraft assembled from a kit may only be operated for personal use.
The manufacturer would issue a statement of compliance for each light-sport aircraft and provide this with the aircraft or kit. This statement attests that the aircraft or kit complies with consensus standards. Under current rules, a manufacturer must be an FAA certificate holder to produce complete aircraft or aircraft parts. Under the proposed rule, the manufacturer is not required to be an FAA certificate holder to produce ready-to- fly aircraft, and may also produce light-sport aircraft kits.
The consensus standards would address aircraft design and performance, as well as quality assurance system requirements for both ready-to-fly aircraft and light-sport aircraft kits. In addition, for ready-to-fly aircraft, the consensus standards must address production acceptance testing and the manufacturers (or other responsible entitys) system for providing for continued operational safety.
The Requirement for Consensus Standards
Under the present regulatory structure, the standards applicable to the design and manufacture of aircraft are either codified into the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) or developed on a case-by-case basis. Developing or revising standards by either of these processes is resource-intensive. Because the FAA is neither an elected or legislative organization, the process for adding or changing regulations has numerous deliberative checks and balances. Under the proposed light-sport aircraft rule, the technical airworthiness standards are developed (and maintained) outside of the federal regulatory process through the consensus standards process.
Under this proposed rule, the procedural requirements would be amended in the CFR to allow an airworthiness certificate to be issued when the aircraft design and manufacture comply with the consensus airworthiness standards. As part of the certificate issuance process, the owner also agrees to comply with other applicable provisions of the consensus standards.
The FAA has proposed to develop technical airworthiness standards for the design, manufacture, test, and in-service support of these basic, uncomplicated aircraft through an open consensus-based process. In other words, the FAA has proposed that for light-sport aircraft, airworthiness standards that provide for an appropriate level of safety for the flying and general public can be developed and maintained through a consensus standards process. The FAA would participate in the consensus standards development process and provide public notice of the completed standard(s) applicable to a given type(s) of light-sport aircraft.
Advantages of Consensus Standards
The FAA anticipates several advantages in the use of consensus airworthiness standards when compared to federal regulations:
Consensus standards for new types of aircraft can be developed more efficiently.
Consensus standards can be more easily updated to reflect new products, changes in technology, or to simply correct errors.
Consensus standards can easily be tailored to accommodate specific derivative products or types of operation.
Consensus standards can be more easily expanded in scope to include additional topics.
In addition, the use of consensus standards would result in newly manufactured products (and modifications to existing products) meeting the current effective standard. While this is a quite common occurrence in most other industries, in aviation under the current regulatory framework, an FAA approved aeronautical product may continue to be produced indefinitely to its initial standard.
The FAA is not the first and is probably not the last civil aviation authority to attempt to right-size the oversight applied to the small end of general aviation aircraft. In most developed countries around the world, it has been recognized that light-sport aircraft do not warrant the same level of regulatory oversight as aircraft used for transportation. In other words, there is a tradeoff between benefits and risksthe burdens to society of a highly regulated structure are considered to be in excess of the added level of safety. In a world of limited governmental resources, these limited resources need to be directed and targeted to those areas that provide the public the most safety benefit.
While the specific implementation methods used by our partner civil aviation authorities to reduce this regulatory burden varies, the general direction worldwide has been toward increased delegation of safety oversight to the industry or industry organizations. The FAA proposal to use consensus standards, while to our knowledge is a unique approach, is quite consistent with this trend.
The FAA believes that the certification process for light-sport aircraft is beneficial to the public from both an economic and safety standpoint. By leading the way in the use of consensus standards for the development of comprehensive airworthiness standards, the FAA believes it is possible that other civil aviation authorities could eventually adopt the consensus standards process. In that case, the ASTM standard could effectively function as an international standard. This could relieve these civil aviation authorities of the resource-intensive task of developing and maintaining these standards, allowing the authorities to target their scarce resources elsewhere. //
Copyright 2002, ASTM