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Keeping Up with Today’s Tech...without Breaking Any Rules!

Source:, By Jennifer Kileo

Cessna retro fit

A Cessna 182 retrofitted with updated instruments.

Are you thinking about upgrading your general aviation (GA) cockpit but not sure where to start? The many different options for upgrades can leave aviators scrambling to make the right decision on what to pick and when to install. Whether you are a fly-for-fun pilot using free time to explore the many facets of the National Airspace System (NAS) or a pilot who seeks to accomplish day-to-day activities, modernizing your airplane’s avionics may appear a daunting endeavor.

When renovating your aircraft, there are many factors to keep in mind as you focus on what products to select. Ask yourself, do I need to address any limitations with my equipment? What product(s) will increase my situational awareness or help manage my workload during flight? How do I distinguish between what I really need, and what is just “nice to have?”

As if that isn’t enough, before you make any of those decisions, you must also consider the FAA compliance factors associated with your choice. It’s enough to send anyone’s mind spinning. We get it. The FAA understands the critical, risk-based decisions pilots must make when deciding to modernize their airplanes to enhance flight safety. That’s why we have dedicated resources to simplify the certification criteria for pilots and operators and make it easier to upgrade the cockpit with the latest safety enhancing equipment. Here are just a few of the ways we have been working to ensure your safety and the airworthiness of your aircraft.

Clearing a Path

Just over a year ago, the FAA established a streamlined policy for non-required angle of attack (AoA) indicator systems. The AoA indicator is a supplementary device that alerts pilots to an unusually high angle of attack, so they can avoid an aerodynamic stall that could lead to a spin and loss of control. Because 40 percent of all GA fatal accidents involve loss of control, the FAA, NTSB, and several aviation industry organizations are all focused on increasing pilot awareness and education. The AoA policy helps by providing a clear path to approval, thereby encouraging owners of GA aircraft to install these safety devices. You can read more about it here:

Another recent FAA policy statement helps GA aviators replace vacuum driven attitude indicators with electronically driven systems. Found here:, this non-regulatory policy clearly indicates that most direct replacements can likely be done via the minor alteration process. The policy statement provides operators with guidance to install electronically driven attitude indicators, which can decrease costs in maintaining the safety of your aircraft.

These two actions demonstrate how the FAA is changing its approach and breaking down the barriers that prevent pilots and operators from modernizing and improving the safety of their airplanes. In addition to these actions, we are working to rewrite the part 23 aircraft certification regulations to align with a performance based approach. The FAA’s intention is to relieve many of the roadblocks manufacturers have encountered when implementing new technologies in product designs. The rulemaking process is lengthy, and we know that is frustrating. But it’s important to make sure we get it right. Stay tuned for continued progress on this front.

To Safety ... and Beyond!

While we are proud of what we have accomplished so far, our work continues beyond these initiatives. Below are examples of several technologies that have the potential to increase a pilot’s situational awareness and help manage workload in both normal and emergency situations. These items are not required, but they fall into the “nice to have” category and contribute substantially to better risk-based decision making.

Fuel Gauge Systems — Known for their simple construction, resistive float gauges are found on most old airplanes. However, over time, corrosion or wear can provide erroneous readings. The construction of a capacitive fuel gauge is more complex, but proves more reliable over time, and provides more accurate information. While upgrading to a capacitive gauge is not required, it does yield “nice to have” benefits like more accurate information on fuel consumption. The valuable data this instrument provides can assist you in conducting a safe flight. A warning, however; although newer fuel gauges can provide accurate measurement, remember that instrument readings vary with specific gravity and temperature. So, like the old gauges, do not rely solely on these gauges as a guide for what’s really in the tanks.

avionics suite

Engine Monitoring Systems — Aircraft engines are the most expensive and critical component of an aircraft. Monitoring an engine’s in-flight performance is imperative for safety, but this practice can also help save you from costly engine repairs. A quality, multifunctional system can capture accurate engine performance data over time, fuel flow readings, and failure probability and alerts. This non-required equipment adds that next level of safety to aircraft operations and affords you the opportunity to make better decisions about flight safety and personal finances.

Autopilots — Introducing a virtual copilot to your cockpit can help keep you straight and level while accomplishing other tasks like previewing approach charts, monitoring your engine performance and fuel flow, and checking on the weather en route and at your final destination. This non-required equipment provides a significant level of enhanced safety.

Primary Flight Displays — A primary flight display (PFD) integrates many individual instruments into a single presentation. An increasing number of newer GA aircraft are equipped with PFDs. The installation of this multifunctional equipment into the existing GA fleet increases situational awareness and simplifies a pilot’s workflow for these aircraft. This capability can facilitate better operational decisions.


Risk-Based Decision Making; It Takes Two

Under the FAA’s Risk-Based Decision Making (RBDM) initiative, we are using every resource to ensure your safety in the NAS. Providing a clear path to the equipment you need is just one of the ways we are working to achieve this goal. You play a critical role in furthering this initiative. Civil aviation safety depends on voluntary compliance to legal requirements. While the “nice to have” avionics are just that, there are a few things to consider in order for you to remain compliant with regulations while flying. One of these is the FAA’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) mandate, which has a January 1, 2020 deadline.

Equipping with ADS-B Out allows you to broadcast the position of your aircraft. We encourage you to go beyond the mandate, and consider equipping with ADS-B In as well. Doing so affords you both the visibility of other aircraft operating in the airspace around you and weather information, increasing your overall situational awareness and your ability to make decisions. It goes without saying that not complying with the new requirements of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) section 91.227 could restrict your access to certain portions of the NAS after the 2020 deadline.

The FAA believes these avionic upgrades are valuable if installed and used correctly, and the required equipment and its established functions are outlined in 14 CFR parts 23 and 91. These requirements are based on size and operation, and are still applicable when upgrading your airplane’s avionics. Choosing a reputable avionics shop and equipment manufacturer can help you determine if your upgrades are compliant with the current performance requirements — including airworthiness directives and service bulletins. These professionals can also advise you on available options and associated costs.

autopilot and trim tabs

After you have determined how you will modernize your aircraft, remember the importance of training on the proper usage of the new technology and how it integrates with your existing equipment! The best way to remain compliant with the regulations is to ensure you are always keeping abreast of existing requirements, and making time to seek the skills you need to keep you at the top of your game. This could come in the form of formal training with a certificated flight instructor (CFI), or simply a little “hangar flying” for your eyes to get accustomed to finding and interpreting the new data in your cockpit. Once you are proficient with your new equipment, you can rest assured that you are prepared to make the risk-based decisions that will improve the efficiency and safety of your aircraft.

Jennifer Kileo is a communications specialist with the Aircraft Certification Service Small Airplane Directorate in Kansas City. Since joining the FAA in 2002, Jennifer has held positions in the FAA’s Offices of International Affairs and Rulemaking, and has supported the agency’s Strategic Initiatives Group as a liaison for the Risk-Based Decision Making Initiative.

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