July 29, 2013
Credit: Terrafugia Concept
Fueled by modernized Part 23 certification rules using consensus-based standards, a renaissance of the stagnant four-seat single-engine aircraft market could begin by 2016, spurring new competition among legacy airframers and bold new startups.
The FAA says it is committed to changing the outdated rules, but not yet. The agency is mulling over recommendations in a 350-page final report from a Part 23 reorganization aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) it launched in 2011. That group says the reform can halve certification costs while doubling safety in general aviation flying, the sector with the highest accident rate.
“Part 23 has not seen a review like this in 30 years,” says Greg Bowles, the reorganization ARC co-chair and director of engineering and manufacturing for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). In concept, the ARC's recommendations would remove most technical requirements from Part 23 regulations and place them into international consensus standards.
A Part 23 rewrite could parallel the revitalization seen in the two-seat aircraft market after the introduction of consensus-based light sport aircraft (LSA) manufacturing rules in 2004. For a factory-built LSA, a manufacturer states it built an aircraft to ASTM consensus standards and the FAA audits the documents, validates the standards used and issues an airworthiness certificate for each aircraft built.
The market has decided the concept works. According to Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, there are currently 132 models of LSA built by about 90 manufacturers worldwide, with only “five or six” manufacturers dropping out over the last nine years as more enter.
Several LSA companies are already planning to produce certified four-seat aircraft under the new Part 23 rules, including Flight Design for the C4, Tecnam for the P2010, Evektor for the Cobra and Pipistrel for the Panthera. They are banking on significantly lower costs than a traditional certification, which for a four-place Part 23-certified aircraft today can cost an estimated $50-$75 million. Depending on the size of the production run, the sales price of each aircraft may have to be increased hundreds of thousands of dollars to cover the certification costs.
Terrafugia, builder of a light sport Transition roadable aircraft, is confident the new rules will allow it to make a four-place flying car that “drivers” can learn to operate in 5 hr. Priced similar to a “very high-end” luxury car, the TF-X will automatically avoid other traffic, bad weather and restricted and tower-controlled airspace, the company says. Along with an airframe parachute, the hybrid-electric aircraft will operate in manual or automatic modes as selected, including an option to auto-land at the nearest airport if the operator becomes non-responsive.