FAA to Loosen Reins on Small-Airplane Certifications

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By Stephanie Beasley

Sept. 22 — The Federal Aviation Administration vowed to stop telling manufacturers how to build safe airplanes, and instead, to respond more nimbly to new industry ideas and innovations.

The FAA is reviewing a final rule that would “rewrite” aircraft certification standards for small private planes so that the focus is on the outcome of safety, not the technologies and designs employed to achieve that, agency chief Michael Huerta said at a Sept. 22 event hosted by the Aero Club of Washington.

Over the years, manufacturers have come to the FAA with new ideas and the agency's certification processes have struggled to keep up with them, Huerta said. The FAA has made some improvements, but often they have been incremental and independent from one another, he said.

Huerta said it has become obvious that the agency needs to overhaul its aircraft certification process if it wants to increase safety and help products get to market faster.

“The FAA doesn't want to tell you how to build things,” he said. “We're not in the engineering business. And we can't assume that we have all the answers about the best way to develop an aircraft. Our business is safety.”

Long-Awaited Changes

Making changes to the FAA aircraft certification process has been an important issue for some lawmakers. For example, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, voted against a short-term FAA reauthorization extension in July because it did not include an overhaul of the process (See previous story, 07/14/16). Moran's state is home to aircraft manufacturers Beechcraft Corp., Cessna Aircraft Co. and Bombardier Inc.'s Learjet Inc.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association applauded the FAA's change of direction.

“These reforms put us on a path toward equipping both new and existing aircraft with more advanced technology that will increase safety and reduce costs, and AOPA is very supportive of the FAA's move towards a risk-based approach to aircraft certification,” AOPA President Mark Baker told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail.

Huerta said the changes were an example of broader efforts to support the development of new aviation technologies including unmanned aircraft systems, also known as drones.

The FAA released final regulations for the use of small commercial drones last month. Just three weeks after the rule became effective, the agency said it received thousands of applications for drone pilot certifications (See previous story, 09/19/16).

The FAA created a drone registry to help federal, state and local officials track commercial and recreational drone users. To date, 550,000 drone users have registered with the agency, Huerta said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington at sbeasley@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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