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The Quiet Revolution - What Part 23 Changes Mean for You

By James Williams
Souce: FAA Safety Briefing, May/June 2019

Even the most rapid revolutions that seem to explode on the scene require years and sometimes decades of groundwork to take off. The Internet is probably the most rapidly spreading world change in recent memory, but even that took decades of foundation building. Setting aside all of the basic computing technology that needed to be in place for the Internet to exist, economic and infrastructure conditions also had to be met. Those included a robust communications backbone, enough PCs in homes and offices to create an audience, and enough capital to roll out the original Internet Service Providers. It was also essential to have a regulatory environment that would allow it. Only then did the “overnight revolution” succeed.

The aircraft certification world has been in the midst of such a revolution for the last few years. The FAA’s role in this revolution includes a significant modification to 14 CFR part 23 (Airworthiness Standards for Normal Category Airplanes), which covers airplanes weighing 19,000 lbs. or less and having 19 or fewer passenger seats. It includes the lower end of the commuter airplane world, but it is predominantly a general aviation (GA) rule. While the original part 23 may not have had the same standards as part 25, which covers transport category airplanes, the two share a similarly prescriptive process and mindset. This process became increasingly frustrating to many GA manufacturers. It also made innovation more difficult, as the procedures and processes were not adaptable for changing technology. But change was happening.

Change Was in the Air

A quiet revolution has been taking place in the FAA for some time on many fronts. You may have heard about it without even realizing it. These changes were gradually introduced into programs like Performance Based Navigation (PBN), Airman Certification Standards (ACS), the Compliance Program, and the focus of this article, the new part 23. The common thread is that these changes shift the focus from the process to the outcome.

In part 23, the old rule was very focused on how the manufacturer gets to the outcome of a safe airplane. The regulation codified prescriptive design requirements, which meant that any deviation from that approach required a cumbersome approval process. These rules were introduced in the 1960s, and the ways we designed airplanes, at least GA ones, were fairly well established. Deviations from the norm were relatively rare. However, that changed as it became increasingly obvious to GA manufacturers (and pilots) that there were other (and better) ways of meeting the end goal: a safe airplane. However, the fact that all of the requirements were set forth in the regulation required manufacturers to either comply or request an exemption. It was also necessary for every manufacturer to do this for every certificate.

The big change in part 23 was the removal of the prescriptive requirements that had previously been at the heart of the rule. The FAA replaced them with desired, end-state criteria. This approach puts the emphasis on the airplane’s or system’s safety performance, not on how well it does in a series of predefined tests.So now that we have these performance-based metrics, how do we ensure that they are met? That brings me to the other half of the new part 23, Means of Compliance (MOC).

MOCing It Up

Instead of having regulations with very specific methods of compliance, the new part 23 allows MOCs based on consensus standards. The FAA, industry, and other stakeholders worked together to develop MOCs that are a way — but not the only way — to demonstrate compliance with the regulation. Each element will have one or more MOCs for the applicant to use. If, for example, none of the previously approved MOCs work in your application, you can propose a new one. This flexibility allows for faster integration of new methods or technologies while still allowing for proper safety oversight.

Let’s have a look at some real-world applications of these changes.

Game Changer

“The part 23 rewrite announcement was a complete game-changer for eFlyer,” said George Bye, CEO of Bye Aerospace. “We implemented an ambitious business plan, began raising investment capital, and set out to identify the best supply chain partners for this unique, all-electric flight training airplane opportunity.”

If you’re a frequent reader, you might recall that a previous article (Ride the Lightning, Nov/Dec 2018, page 18), featured Bye Aerospace’s eFlyer as a certification project to watch on the electric propulsion front. Bye’s first airplane, the eFlyer 2, is a two-seater targeted at the training market. The airplane has a cruising speed of 135 knots and a 3.5 hour maximum endurance with VFR and reserve. Bye Aerospace is also developing a four-seat version, the eFlyer 4, with a 150-knot cruising speed and a four-hour endurance.

“The new regulation provides for a streamlined certification process, reducing cost and schedule to achieve certification and transition to production,” Bye explained. “Bye Aerospace is extremely pleased and grateful that the FAA had the insight and willingness to embrace the possibilities and the likelihood that electric propulsion truly is the future of aviation,” said Bye. “Our opinion of the change is positive.”

Streamlining the Approval Process

piper aircraft

Aircraft manufacturers aren’t the only ones to reap the benefits of a revised part 23. “The part 23 rewrite and the associated ASTM consensus standards have greatly benefitted Garmin, resulting in a more streamlined and safety-focused perspective,” explained Phil Straub, Garmin’s Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Aviation. “This has allowed Garmin to bring cost-effective, safety-enhancing technologies to a segment of the market that has expressed interest in low-cost solutions,” Straub continued. “Based on the demand and popularity of these products, such as the G5 electronic flight instrument and the GFC 500 autopilot, our customers have benefitted tremendously from the part 23 rewrite.”

According to Straub, the most valuable aspect of the rule change is the replacement of prescriptive requirements with standards more proportional to the actual risk involved with light airplanes. “For example, requirements such as those related to HIRF [high-intensity radiated field] and lightning, and which affect light GA very differently than transport category aircraft, have been revised to focus on safety objectives. This further streamlines the approval and certification process for Garmin.”

Straub also explained that the rewrite opens great opportunity. “As I’ve shared by our example, the industry is already benefiting,” he said. “The full benefit will take time, particularly for aircraft manufacturers to create aircraft designs that raise the safety bar by complying with regulations in innovative ways that were previously discouraged.”

Garmin is only one prominent example of how this change can enable innovation, improve cost, and more importantly, enhance safety.Garmin products

Improving Situational Awareness

One of the more interesting concepts that the new part 23 enhanced is EZ Fly. EZ Fly is an exciting program to improve GA safety by leveraging technology to create an intuitive user interface that reduces pilot workload. To translate that into a less academic parlance, the idea is to use increased automation to move the pilot’s limited attention away from immediate mechanical tasks and toward overall management of the flight. This approach could dramatically improve situational awareness and provide more mental bandwidth for aeronautical decision-making.

The EZ Fly concept combines a number of components including sensors, control laws, displays, and a simplified pilot interface with full envelope protection. One of the key concepts is Advanced Flight Control Systems (AFCS). AFCS are more than just fly-by-wire (FBW) systems. AFCS blend aircraft stabilization (such as stability augmentation) with basic aircraft control. But accomplishing that goal requires researching a number of supporting tech-nologies and making them economically viable for GA. This is a joint effort by the FAA, NASA, academia, and industry and is no small task. The expected out-come is not a discrete system or set of components, but a MOC that would allow manufacturers to use these systems in future projects.

EZ Fly is also part of a larger effort called Simplified Vehicle Operations (SVO). SVO has an end goal of fully automated flight operations, which has great potential to address key safety issues such as Loss of Control. But there are a number of challenges between where we are today and that goal. EZ Fly may offer a step toward that end state. Part 23 is an important enabler of not only this research and development, but also the technology’s eventual integration into finished products.

The Flight Path

The foundation has been firmly laid. The regulations are now in place to facilitate the future. Research is underway to enable introduction of technology. As noted, it will take time for the benefits to work their way to the average pilot. Rest assured, though, that the creativity unleashed in this quiet revolution will likely lead to solutions nobody saw coming. We may not know exactly what that tomorrow will look like — but that’s part of the excitement. Stay tuned!

James Williams is FAA Safety Briefing’s associate editor and photo editor. He is also a pilot and ground instructor.

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