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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.

Aircraft Certification

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 manufacturer’s certification of compliance to consensus standards. This new path to airworthiness certification is an additional path—no 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 manufacturer’s (or other responsible entity’s) 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.

International Vision

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 risks—the 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

Scott Sedgwick is a manager in the FAA Small Airplane Directorate Standards Office in Kansas City, Mo. The office is responsible for the standardization of Small Airplane Certification projects nationwide.

As of this writing, the FAA is in the process of resolving public comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking titled “Certification of Aircraft and Airmen for the Operation of Light-Sport Aircraft.” Therefore, all references to the rule in this article are to the rule as it was proposed.

Some Highlights of the Proposed Rule

A major objective of this rule is to provide a practical way that these unregistered ultralight — like aircraft could be used to carry a passenger. To carry a passenger, even for recreational use, the FAA has always required a certificated aircraft and airmen (pilot). The FAA position is that these certifications are still necessary, but that they could be accomplished in a different manner. The proposed rule is intended to accomplish this. Some of the proposal highlights are as follows:

• Fewer training hours, appropriate for these aircraft, required to receive a pilot certificate.
• A valid driver’s license satisfies the pilot certificate medical requirement.
• New types of aircraft are recognized: Powered parachutes and weight — shift control.
• New repairman certificates provide for owner inspection and maintenance.
• Consensus standards used for the certification of aircraft.

Because the use of consensus standards is required only in the aircraft certification section of the proposed rule, the remainder of this article focuses on that facet. There is additional information available on the complete proposed rule on the FAA Web site.

What Is a Light-Sport Aircraft?

Light-sport aircraft are small, simple-to-operate, low-performance aircraft. The definition of a light-sport aircraft is characterized by physical limitations that are prescribed in the proposed rule. Some of the key light-sport aircraft limitations are a maximum of:

• Two occupants;
• Takeoff weight of 1,232-lb.
(560 kg.);
• Stalling speed in the landing configuration of 39 knots
(72 km/hr);
• Speed in straight and level flight of 115 knots (213 km/hr).

For operational simplicity, light-sport aircraft are limited to a single engine if powered, and fixed landing gear.

Light-sport aircraft types include conventional aircraft such as fixed-wing, gliders, and lighter-than-air aircraft. However, helicopters and powered lift are not included due to their complexity. Light-sport aircraft include aircraft types that are not addressed by the current certification rules; these are powered parachutes, and weight-shift-control aircraft (sometimes referred to as trikes).


Public Law 104-113 (the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act), adopted in 1996, contains a provision that directs federal agencies to use standards developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies whenever it is practical to do so and is not inconsistent with applicable law.

Typically it would be impractical to develop new minimum airworthiness standards outside the CFR when comprehensive standards already exist and are referenced through the certification procedure rules in the CFR. With this proposed light-sport aircraft rule, the necessary changes would be made in the procedural rules and when combined with the fact that airworthiness standards do not otherwise exist for two aircraft types, has provided an opportunity for the FAA to utilize standards developed through the voluntary consensus process.

The Office of Management and Budget has issued policy on the use of voluntary consensus standards in OMB Circular A-119. This document details the characteristics of a voluntary consensus standard body as defined by the attributes of openness, balance of interest, due process, an appeals process, and consensus building. These attributes ensure that all interested parties have the opportunity to participate in a transparent process.

The FAA direction to the industry was that standards could be developed by any appropriate means provided the process complied with the attributes spelled out in the OMB Circular. As a result of this requirement, ASTM International was selected by representatives of the light-sport aircraft industry to manage the consensus standards development process.

Aside from simply meeting the requirements of the OMB Circular, using ASTM provides tangible benefits to this industry. An ASTM standard is a known quantity worldwide and meeting a known standard generally raises the level of public acceptance of a product. It is very possible that this will be a factor for new investment into the industry. Standards could help create a business opportunity where one simply doesn’t exist today because of the somewhat fractured nature of the industry. This investment would likely be in processes to more efficiently produce, distribute, and support their product.