When most of us think of an airplane as certified, we mean full certification. However, before the FAA issues a full type certificate a manufacturer may apply for an interim, “provisional” certificate which, in essence, is design approval. It imposes certain time and operational limitations, but allows the manufacturer to begin pilot training, conduct demonstration flights, perform in-service tests and fly various instruments and accessories. It also lets the manufacturer fly with some systems disabled, assuring that flight is safe without them, according to FAA regulations.
Provisional certification doesn’t necessarily mean that the airplane isn’t fully developed. It just means that not all final requirements for certification have been met. Indeed, a provisional certificate applicant must show that the airplane already meets the airworthiness standards appropriate for its proposed type certificate, according to the FAA. As with Eclipse, the gap between provisional and full certification may be mere weeks, although it can be up to two years under FAA rules.
Perhaps most important to the manufacturer, provisional certification indicates to prospective buyers that the FAA has said the airplane has met its requirements. It’s a positive sign that the company is making progress from an official viewpoint, a matter of interest to investors and suppliers as well as to prospective buyers.
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