Airworthiness Certification Overview

What is an airworthiness certificate?
An airworthiness certificate is an FAA document which grants authorization to operate an aircraft in flight.

Who may apply for an airworthiness certificate?
A registered owner or owner's agent of an aircraft may apply for an airworthiness certificate.

Are there different classifications of airworthiness certificates?
Yes. There are two different classifications of FAA airworthiness certificates: Standard Airworthiness Certificate, and Special Airworthiness Certificate.

How Does the FAA Certify Aircraft?
The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Aircraft Certification Service includes more than 1,300 engineers, scientists, inspectors, test pilots and other experts. They are responsible for oversight of design, production, airworthiness certification, and continued airworthiness programs for all U.S. civil aviation products and foreign import products. The FAA collaborates with the International Civil Aviation Organization and other civil aviation authorities to maintain and advance the safety of international air transportation.

The Certification Process
The FAA's aircraft certification processes are well established and have consistently assured safe aircraft designs. As part of any certification project, we conduct the following:

  • Review any proposed designs and the methods that will be used to show that these designs and the overall airplane complies with FAA standards
  • Conduct certain ground and flight tests to demonstrate that the airplane meets the FAA standards
  • Evaluate the airplane to determine the required maintenance and operational suitability for introduction of the aircraft into service
  • Work with other civil aviation authorities on their approval of the aircraft, based primarily on work already completed by the FAA

Who is authorized to issue an FAA airworthiness certificate?
Only FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors and authorized Representatives of the Administrator (i.e. Designees), as defined in 14 CFR Part 183, "Representatives of the Administrator", are authorized to issue an FAA airworthiness certificate.

What is an "ODA?"
Federal law authorizes the FAA to delegate to a qualified individual or organization the ability to conduct certain activities on behalf of the agency. In recent successive Acts, Congress directed FAA to streamline certification, including increased delegation to Organizational Designation Authorizations (ODA).

FAA has never allowed companies to police themselves or self-certify their aircraft. With strict FAA oversight, delegation extends the rigor of the FAA certification process to other recognized professionals, thereby multiplying the technical expertise focused on assuring an aircraft meets FAA standards. The agency remains directly involved in the testing and certification of any new and novel features and technologies.

ODA unit members may be authorized to issue airworthiness certificates. The work flow for issuance of these certificates must meet FAA requirements, including an inspection of the aircraft and review of the aircraft build records.

Before issuing a standard or special airworthiness certificate, or a special flight permit, ODA unit members must inspect the aircraft, and document the results of the inspection as described in FAA Order 8130.2 (PDF). Before issuing an experimental certificate or special flight permit, the ODA unit must obtain FAA written approval. Once the certificate is issued, the ODA unit must send the certification package to the FAA.

The use of delegation has been a vital part of our safety system since the 1920s, and without it, the success of our country's aviation system likely would have been stifled. Our delegation program is similar to organizational programs used in Europe and other countries, so it helps the United States maintain a level playing field with foreign competitors.

Can the FAA revoke an airworthiness certificate?
Yes. The FAA can revoke an existing airworthiness certificate in any category (14 CFR section 21.181), if the aircraft no longer meets its approved design and/or is not in an airworthy condition.

Does the FAA provide information regarding the definition of the term "airworthy"?
The FAA provides information regarding the definition of the term "airworthy" in FAA Order 8130.2, Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft, Appendix I. Definitions.

Last updated: Wednesday, June 29, 2022