Happy Christmas to the aviation world! For our gift, the community received what it’s wanted for years, notes Dave Higdon. It’s time to enjoy the new era of performance-based aircraft and equipment certification resulting from FAA’s rewrite of FAR 23…

The package arrived last week when the FAA published the result of its long anticipated rewrite of FAR 23; the rules governing certification of so-called ‘light aircraft’ (those weighing less than 12,500 lbs). But what, exactly, is performance-based certification?

The new FAR 23 takes the philosophy of defining performance goals, and applying them to the certification of aircraft and systems. Under the final rule’s provisions, categories such as utility, aerobatic and commuter are eliminated for future Part 23 aircraft approvals.

Instead the rules apply four levels of performance and risk, based on the aircraft’s maximum seating capacity.

Further, the FAR 23 rewrite meshes with on-going regulatory reform underway in Europe and around the world, fitting into a global effort to develop common certification standards.

The goal is to remove regulatory barriers and promote the acceptance of airplanes and products worldwide. For example, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is also in the process of rewriting its CS-23 rule for small airplanes, and other authorities are expected to follow suit. Faster development, lower costs and better systems should result, meaning a more global market with reduced barriers.

The industry reacted to the FAA announcement like a child finding exactly what it wanted as a holiday gift…

Industry Reaction

“The Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA) commends the FAA for completing its work on the Part 23 rulemaking effort,” said AEA President Paula Derks.

“While the rulemaking’s primary focus is a proactive shift to proportional and objective-based rules within the Part 23 framework that will have a significant effect on the next generation of general aviation aircraft, the retrofit industry has already benefited from this long-awaited shift to proportional rulemaking.” (Early in 2016, FAA started applying the principles of the new FAR 23 to retrofit equipment for certificated aircraft, allowing the use of non-approved equipment that met requisite performance standards.)

“We acknowledge the FAA’s achievements with Part 23 reform and anticipate a much improved certification process for new aircraft with new innovations, exciting designs and technologies incorporated, but we must also focus on ways to modernize the existing fleet,” added Mark Baker, AOPA president.

“[This] is truly a landmark day for the General Aviation industry,” GAMA President & CEO Pete Bunce said.

“This 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 airplanes to market, as well as facilitating safety-enhancing modifications and upgrades to the existing fleet.”

So Merry Christmas…

As Derks observed, the rewrite’s results have already been felt in the retrofit market and the final rule’s publication should accelerate industry’s ability to help owners install improved systems in existing aircraft, from jets down to piston aircraft.

Ultimately, improved safety and performance should benefit all through the new FAR 23. Now the FAA should be encouraged to apply the same philosophy to FAR 25 transport-category aircraft (and FAR 27 for helicopters).

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