Bill passage boosts Part 23 rewrite hopes for small aircraft

Washington DC
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A long-awaited effort to reform airworthiness certification rules for small aircraft received a boost late on 16 July from the US House of Representatives.

The full chamber passed a bill, dubbed the Small Airplane Revitalisation Act, that would set a deadline for the US Federal Aviation Administration to implement a series of proposed reforms by 31 December 2015.

A similar bill is making its way through the US Senate, and both houses of Congress must agree on a single version before it can be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

"The overwhelmingly positive vote today makes it crystal clear that the FAA should implement these rules without delay," says GAMA president and chief executive Pete Bunce.

The Congresional bills essentially set a legal timetable for the Obama Administration to clear a package of reforms through a gauntlet of bureacracies, including the FAA, the Office of Management and Budget and the Transportation Security Administration.

The reforms to the Part 23 certification standards have already been winding through the FAA rulemaking process for several years.

A 55-member aviation rulemaking committee created by the FAA has recommended several rules changes, including harmonising standards for commuter aircraft and small aircraft and basing certification criteria on the complexity of the components in the design rather than on arbitrary gross weight limits.

The recommendation also proposes to remove the certification standards from the direct authority of the FAA. Instead, the rules that qualify a new aircraft to be sold on the open market would be set by a consensus-driven industry panel operating under the ASTM model. A similar process is already in place for the light sport aircraft category.

Proponents, which include GAMA, the National Business Aviation Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, argue the reforms are needed to reverse declines in sales and innovation in the light aircraft sector.

At the same time, the FAA says the reforms should cut the certification time for light aircraft in half while doubling the safety of the aircraft that come through the process.