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FAA rules kill 'grandfather rights' in USA and Europe

Ramon Lopez/WASHINGTON David Learmount/LONDON

Grandfather rights have finally been killed on both sides of the Atlantic. A new US Federal Aviation Administration rule has replaced the regulation which allowed completely new aircraft models in a well established family, like Boeing's 737 series, for example, to continue to be produced to some of the out-of-date certification standards in force when the first 737 was produced.

The European Joint Aviation Authorities say it will publish a Joint Aviation Requirement completely harmonised with the new FAA regulation "in the third quarter" of this year.

The JAA has been pressing for such a change for more than 10 years and had adopted a compromise solution requiring that new models in an existing family of aircraft do not have to meet the letter of the latest certification laws, provided that the new version could demonstrate "equivalent safety" by some other means. If it could not, the updated model had to satisfy the same certification standards that would apply to a completely new aircraft type.

This has caused considerable transatlantic friction, especially in the case of the number of passengers allowed to be carried in the 737-800 with the original design overwing emergency escape hatches. Eventually, Boeing designed a new hatch-opening mechanism which was judged to provide equivalent safety. "I would not wish to go through that argument again," says a JAA certification official.

"There may be a considerable difference between the standards required for a new product and for a product undergoing change," the FAA points out, explaining: "The amendments are needed to address the trend toward fewer products that are of completely new design and more products with multiple changes to previously approved designs."

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