When a general aviation aircraft enters the market with critical new safety features, it should only be a positive story. But when such additions were made possible only because Icon Aircraft’s sporty A5 seaplane falls outside the standard Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), the story becomes “embarrassing”, says former Cessna chief executive Jack Pelton.
The A5 is certificated as a special-light sport aircraft in the amphibian class, so escaped the complex, costly and often self-defeating FAR Part 23 standards that apply to all general aviation aircraft weighing over 599kg (1,320lb), unless granted an exemption.
Icon’s safety features – a spin-resistant wing and an angle of attack indicator – should be pervasive across the general aviation industry. Both address the single-largest cause of GA accidents, namely loss of control at low altitude, especially on a final turn before landing.
But the cost and complexity of certificating new technologies under Part 23 often renders the business case impractical, if not impossible. It is an overly blunt instrument that forces small, piston-powered aircraft to complete tests designed for the most advanced, jet-powered business types. So many safety-enhancing technologies fall outside the reach of a market sector that statistics show needs it more than any other.
A long-delayed rewrite of the rules is under way, with a 2017 deadline. It cannot come soon enough.
So safe it's embarrassing