WASHINGTON, D.C.— Manufacturers of general aviation airplanes, users of those airplanes, and the FAA are taking steps to reduce the costs, complexity, and time involved in certification in an effort to reduce prices and stem the decline in general aviation flying.
Recently, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association held a webinar to provide an update on the work of the FAA Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC). Part 23 is the section of FARs related to the manufacture of aircraft. Many in the aviation industry say the complexity of Part 23 regulations, as well as frequent changes in those regulations, have been a major factor in the rising costs of new aircraft and the costs of flying them
The Part 23 ARC has been chartered with the goal of cutting the cost of new airplane certification and retrofits in half, while offering products with twice the safety, according to AOPA and GAMA officials.
“In order to counter the stable and negative trends in light general aviation, the ARC plans to make some ground-shifting recommendations which will require the knowledge and participation of the entire aviation community to become successful,” the organization said in the invitation to the webinar.
The active pilot population in the United States today is below 200,000, and about 10,000 are being lost every year. Much of this is blamed on the costs of buying and operating an airplane, GAMA and AOPA officials said.
The average general aviation airplane is 40 years old, while production of new planes is based mostly on technology that old.
To certify a new aircraft today costs between $500,000 and $1 million — and these certification costs must be recovered. These certification costs are a primary reason why aircraft produced today by major manufacturers are based on designs of 1980 and before, officials said during the webinar. Other expenses, such as liability, certification of changes, and wages, raise the costs beyond inflation. If inflation was the only factor affecting prices, the cost of a typical airplane today would be $69,000, the GA officials note.
Today’s rules for certification are both outdated and restrictive, which is why the industry and the FAA are getting together to simplify the rules. This should result not only in less expensive aircraft, but innovations that can save lives by the ability to produce technology changes more quickly and at less expense. It should also create flexibility to permit more rapid changes and cost savings in introducing new technology.
It was pointed out during the webinar that new technology for flying airplanes is available, but the costs of certification are prohibiting advancement, resulting in pilots not having equipment that could save lives. As an example, loss of control is the biggest single cause of fatal accidents. Technology exists to reduce the dangers, even to the point of aircraft making a safe landing with the pilot completely off the controls. Yet costs and confusion are preventing advancements such as these.
Historically, the FAA has hosted regular reviews of Part 23 about every 10 years. The two most recent reviews were conducted in 1974 and 1984. In 2008, the FAA initiated the current, ongoing review process. Last November, an effort began to bring regulations from the dark ages of flight, when the old Civil Aeronautics Administration established the first standards, through massive changes over the years, into today’s rapid advancements in design, manufacturing and technology.
The Part 23 Reorganization ARC has 20 members, including representatives from manufacturing, both Part 23 and light sport, equipment manufacturing, aviation associations, and foreign aviation authorities. The foreign representatives serve as observers only, but their participation will be a major step in getting international standards, officials said. The committee expects to have the completed Part 23 rule by July 2015.
Reorganization of Part 23 alone will not bring aviation back to lower prices, but it will be a major step in efforts the industry and user organizations are beginning to take.
Charles Spence is General Aviation News’ Washington, D.C., correspondent.