"A New Look at Certification"
Michael Huerta, Wichita, Kansas
October 11, 2012

Wichita Aero Club

Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be back in Wichita. I was last here in February 2011 in the wake of a heavy snowstorm.  It’s good to be back on a nicer day. And thank you, Dave (Franson, President of the Wichita Aero Club), for that kind introduction.

This city has a long and proud history as a cradle of aviation innovation. Adept inventors and designers, men who were pioneers of aviation, came together here in this town to do great things.

Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman all made their mark here, joining together to form the Travel Air Company in the 1920s.

Later each of them founded an aircraft company bearing his own name. They went on to make enormous contributions to the world of flight–and those contributions are contributions that we in aviation still feel today.  This city has manufactured hundreds of thousands of aircraft over the years.

As we know, times have not always been easy. In fact, the Cessna DC-6 was certified on October 29, 1929, when the stock market crashed and started the Great Depression. The company turned to gliders to help make it through.  

Then as now, aviation companies have weathered many storms. We all know that general aviation has gone through a rough period in the last few years. And we have worked very hard to show the public that business aviation and general aviation is a substantial contributor to the national economy, especially to our smaller cities in terms of jobs and needed air service. Your customers are small to mid-sized businesses, large corporations. They might be farms, flight schools and emergency responders.

Business aviation helps companies serve their customers and maintain their products more quickly, in order to stay ahead of the competition.

We know that the aviation industry is cyclical.  And we have seen some signs of improvement.  Business jet flight hours are up 18 percent today compared to the trough in 2009.    

The NetJets order this summer for Bombardier and Cessna aircraft was one of the largest private aircraft orders ever.

And general aviation contributes to our nation’s positive balance of trade. The General Aviation Manufacturing Association estimates that its U.S. members generated $4.3 billion in new airplane export revenue last year.

Foreign markets continue to show a healthy demand for the fine aircraft made right here in Wichita.

At the FAA, we want to encourage and facilitate the innovation in aircraft design that has always been a hallmark of this city.  

When Bill Lear built his Model 23 here in Wichita in 1963, the certification process was pretty simple.  Aircraft design and the certification process, as we all know, have become much more complex since that time. We are working with all of you and our international counterparts on the challenges of the certification process for small airplanes.

The FAA acknowledges that we need to find ways to enhance safety, to decrease the costs association with certification and bring more products to market.  Let me tell you how we’re doing that.

As you know, Part 23 of our aviation regulations pertains to airworthiness standards for small airplanes.  When I was here in 2011, I heard a lot about the certification process and what we could do to improve it.

Last year we formed an aviation rulemaking committee to look at these rules. We have not looked at our regulatory structure for small airplanes since the 1980s. And a lot has changed since then.

This committee is taking a fresh look at how we certify general aviation aircraft.

The approach we have taken until now is more forensic in nature.

We react. We see what didn’t work and we create certain design requirements to make sure that a certain failure does not happen again. In essence, what we are doing is preventing the last accident.

This approach has served us well and has helped us to achieve the safest aviation system in the world.

However, we believe there is a better way for the future – one that retains the safety lessons we’ve learned from the past while providing for a more proactive and flexible approach to certification.

This Part 23 committee is developing such an approach.

Instead of specifying a design – we are specifying a safety outcome that we would like to see.

We are taking a less prescriptive approach which will allow for greater innovation in the marketplace. Our goal, as always, is to enhance safety and to decrease accidents. But we are less wedded to one particular pathway to achieve that goal.

The committee has suggested switching from criteria based on an airplane’s weight and propulsion to criteria that correspond to the aircraft’s performance and its complexity.

The engineering leaders at the companies here in Wichita have been key to the success of the Part 23 rule making committee this year.  We are working with governments in other countries and with industry around the world to determine what does this translate to in terms of appropriate standards.

You are really helping us reach this goal of enhancing safety while decreasing the cost associated with certification. Our goal is to improve general aviation safety and to cut certification costs in half.

For example, take the test procedures for verifying the strength of the wing of an airplane.  

If we can all agree on one way to test an aircraft wing, then each country does not have to write the test procedure itself.

Nowadays, you may have to do the test slightly differently in each country, and this takes a whole lot more time. And it costs literally millions of dollars to make these slight changes that will account for country differences.

The new approach saves time and money for companies because it’s one testing standard across the globe – whether it’s the United States, Canada, Brazil, Europe, New Zealand, China or Russia.

Of course the FAA would continue to exercise the authority to certify whether or not an airplane design met the standard.  But we would use industry consensus standards that would apply anywhere in the world.

These changes will allow the aviation industry to adopt new technologies more quickly and this means enhanced safety for everyone.

The Part 23 rulemaking committee is expected to finish its work next year and will send its report to us at the FAA. Our goal is to issue a final rule after that. It may take as long as three years– but our goal is to advance that as quickly as we can.

This current effort applies only to small airplanes used in general aviation, however we are studying these concepts and evaluating how to use them for the certification of larger aircraft as well.

Now, I’d like to turn to another aspect of certification – which is how to facilitate the use of non-required safety equipment for GA aircraft.

There is a lot of innovation in the marketplace that is taking place today and we want to make it easier for owners of existing general aviation aircraft to use products that enhance safety.

Right now the bulk of the general aviation fleet is about 40 years old. So, on one hand are the older planes, and on the other are new GA aircraft being made today that incorporate the latest safety features. They are also a lot more expensive. And in the third category – I guess a third hand if I had three hands – you have kit aircraft that are built in an owner’s garage, often equipped with advanced safety equipment as well.   

We want to find a way to allow new safety equipment into existing GA aircraft so that owners benefit from all the safety advances that are available today.

In the last decade, the experimental aircraft fleet has doubled and the certified GA fleet has decreased by 10 percent.

That’s partly because the experimental segment of the industry is where a recreational aviator can more afford to buy a new aircraft. And the owner can then add safety equipment that’s much newer than in the traditional fleet.

We need to find a better way to allow good, life-saving products into existing aircraft so that aviators can upgrade their certified plane, rather than having to go with an experimental aircraft to get new safety equipment.

The rulemaking committee is grappling with this issue as we speak.

I want to turn to another major issue affecting the existing fleet of GA aircraft and that is the transition to a lead-free aviation gas.

We are working very hard to find a solution to the AvGas issue. This affects the more than 160,000 existing aircraft in the United States that depend on 100 low lead fuel.

We have an entire infrastructure in place right now to service these aircraft and dispense fuel. As you know, we formed an aviation rulemaking committee on AvGas.

We sat down with all the interest groups and agreed upon a path to replacing the fuel. The committee’s report came out this year. And we appreciate very much the work of everyone on the committee. We are considering all of the recommendations very carefully.

One of the requests was to create an office within the FAA. We are managing the transition to a new aviation gas and have created the Fuels Program Office, AIR-20 (everything at the FAA has to have a routing code), and we’ve identified a manager in charge to oversee this transition.

Eventually, for GA aircraft made in the future, this won’t be an issue. For example, Cessna is moving its new planes to diesel, which will use Jet A fuel.

As we transition our older GA fleet to a new type of fuel, our utmost concern is one thing, and that is of course safety. At the same time, we want to implement new technologies and do our best to make sure the transition has the least amount of impact as possible on aircraft owners and those who sell fuel at the airport.

Whether we’re talking about certification or AvGas or incorporating the latest NextGen displays into the existing GA fleet, collaboration is the key to our success as an industry. The aviation industry has always been characterized by two things: innovation and change. And we know that we do our best when working in a partnership with all of our stakeholders.

I’d like to thank the National Institute for Aviation Research, based right here, for their tremendous help to manufacturers and to the FAA. And the National Center for Aviation Training.

I have made it a priority to create public-private partnerships that will enable us to move aviation forward. There is so much to do as an industry – we will get there sooner and with enhanced safety if we open our minds up to great ideas and great talents of the entire aviation industry when deciding on the path ahead.

Aviation has had a very long and illustrious history, much of it right there in Wichita. The advances in the last century are absolutely mind boggling.

Today, we are at a critical time. The decisions we make as an industry in the next two to three years will define aviation for 25, 30, or 40 years.

It’s an exciting time to be in aviation. We have tremendous opportunity and face tremendous challenges, but we will meet them by working together in an environment that fosters collaboration and innovation.

Thank you again for your commitment to aviation. And for your perseverance and your hard work in continuing this city’s great aviation legacy.

Thank you.