June 27, 2012
While improved pilot training will be key to lowering the general aviation (GA) accident rate, the expedited introduction of advanced technology–particularly through retrofits–along with reorganized Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 23 certification standards will also play a role, concludes a panel at the “New Aircraft Design and Certification” session of the National Transportation Safety Board’s recent GA Safety Forum.
While saying that current regulations “have served us well,” Earl Lawrence, manager of the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate, acknowledged the need for changes in Part 23 regulations to enhance GA safety. He noted that the Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which is about halfway through its review of certification standards for lighter aircraft, is moving away from weight- and power-based standards and toward rules focused on aircraft complexity and performance. The group’s goal is to reduce both the number of accidents and cost of certifying a light aircraft by 50%.
While it may take some time to reach those goals, Lawrence suggested that near-term measures could focus on reducing loss-of-control accidents through the introduction of angle-of-attack indicators and improving aircraft occupant survivability through expedited approval of inflatable restraints. He said that could take place later this year.
Greg Bowles, director of engineering and manufacturing for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, noted that GA hours flown are down, the pilot population is shrinking, safety rates have stagnated and the cost of certificating aircraft has risen sharply in recent years. This is a major reason why the average age of a GA aircraft is 39 years old.
“The Part 23 ARC is really critical to bringing back GA and improving safety,” he said, noting that final recommendations from the ARC would be forthcoming by the middle of 2013.
Tim Timmerman of Cirrus Aircraft said that increased system redundancy, improved situational awareness among pilots, enhanced survivability of aircraft designs and better envelope protection have advanced the state of the art in GA safety during the last decade. In terms of new opportunities, Timmerman said, “I think we need to focus on younger passengers. How do we ensure safer travel for our children?”
Kristine Hartzell, chief flight instructor for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Air Safety Institute, also noted, “Certainly aircraft design and certification plays a big role in aviation safety. So we feel encouraging the installation and development of new technologies . . . will be beneficial.” Hartzell added that she is “very supportive” of efforts to eliminate weight-based certification criteria and endorsed the GA Joint Steering Committee’s efforts to replicate the approach used so successfully by the Commercial Aviation Safety Team—developing targeted accident-mitigation strategies.
Kirk Hawkins, founder of ICON Aircraft, which is developing an amphibious Light Sport Aircraft (LSA), stressed the importance of the LSA category to GA’s future. Suggesting that the lack of widespread GA innovation has had a negative impact on safety, he said that although the LSA category is a small part of the overall GA market, it has the opportunity to become an “innovation engine . . . by reversing the decline in [the number of] pilots and creating great new technologies that will enhance safety.”