The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is launching a new general aviation research project aimed at reducing reduce loss-of-control (LOC) scenarios, events the agency says account for nearly 50% of all accidents in the sector.

In a solicitation released on 3 July, the FAA is calling on industry to submit proposals that outline LOC elimination strategies using automatic flight controls for flight envelope protection. The FAA says the overall goal of the effort is to study the "feasibility of leveraging existing sensor and autopilot technology currently available in the GA market to implement automatic envelope warning and protection devices and improve GA safety in a cost-effective manner". Existing sensors that could help reduce or eliminate LOC accidents, include digital Attitude Heading Reference Systems (AHRS) for attitude and control and GPS for navigation, equipment that could be linked with digital autopilots to limit pitch, airspeed and bank angles.

The work is intended to pickup where previous NASA safety programmes, including the Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) and Advanced General Aviation Flight Experiments (AGATE) left off. Both earlier programmes were intended to increase GA safety by providing "better information in the cockpit", although the FAA says neither addressed the need to simplify the task of flying and controlling the aircraft, particularly in instrument meteorological conditions.

While the necessary technologies are currently available, the FAA says the GA industry has been "reluctant" to use advanced control systems due to concerns about hardware and certification costs. "There is a misconception that these systems would require the development of new actuator and flight control computer hardware," says the FAA. "However, existing displays and new digital autopilots that take advantage of cheaper sensor, computer and actuator technology may provide a means to finally develop advanced controls at a price that would fit the GA industry budget."

The FAA plans to first conduct a 10-month feasibility study to determine if automatic envelope protection systems are economical and advantageous for the GA sector. If the results are positive, the agency then plans to fund industry to develop detailed design requirements, minimum performance requirements, a demonstration system and solutions to issues linked with certifying such a system. Industry responses to the initial solicitation are due by 23 July.

Source: Flight International