The FAA announced today that it would accept new methods of certification work by manufacturers on many steps in the process of getting approval from the FAA for their aircraft—what the FAA refers to as “means of compliance.” The new method is not new at all. Known as industry consensus standards, it has been used on Light Sport Aircraft aircraft for nearly two decades with great success. The idea is this: The industry gets together and through ASTM (formerly known as American Society for Testing and Materials) puts together accepted ways for manufacturers to ensure that the system in question works reliably. In the past, the FAA mandated the methods of compliance, but industry consensus standards, say proponents, will allow plane makers to come up with, ideally, less expensive and time-consuming methods to show their systems meet the FAA’s standards.
In making the announcement, the FAA allowed an additional 35 procedures to be approved through industry consensus standards. These additions will, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), “…will enable and encourage safety and innovation in general aviation airplanes and further developments in advanced air mobility (AAM) and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.”
One of the built-in issues with the FAA regulating aviation—which by its very nature is a fast-moving, technologically advanced industry—is that the process of creating rules and working them into existing regulatory frameworks is complicated and slow moving, due in part to the FAA bureaucracy and that of the federal government that the FAA exists within. Consequently, advances in technology don’t show up in GA aircraft until long after they’ve been introduced in other industries.
One thing no one is saying is that the savings will allow far lower price points for new planes. The experience of LSA, if anything, is that building planes is expensive and making a profit at it is a challenge. The hope is that these newly accepted consensus standards will lower costs for Part 23 aircraft, or at least help minimize price increases going forward.