Certification is how the FAA manages risk through safety assurance. It provides the FAA confidence that a proposed product or operation will meet FAA safety expectations to protect the public. Certification affirms that FAA requirements have been met.
14 CFR Part 21 defines three separate certifications: type, production, and airworthiness.
- Type certification is the approval of the design of the aircraft and all component parts (including propellers, engines, control stations, etc.). It signifies the design is in compliance with applicable airworthiness, noise, fuel venting, and exhaust emissions standards. The Los Angeles Aircraft Certification Office (ACO) is the main ACO for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) type certification. You can contact their office for more information.
- Production certification is the approval to manufacture duplicate products under an FAA-approved type design. It signifies that an organization and its personnel, facilities, and quality system can produce a product or article that conforms to its approved design.
- Airworthiness certification is necessary for operation of civil aircraft outside of 14 CFR Part 107 or without an exemption under the Special Authority for Certain Unmanned Systems (U.S.C. 44807). An airworthiness certificate can be either in the Standard or Special class and signifies that an aircraft meets it's approved type design (if applicable) and is in a condition for safe operation.
Standard Airworthiness Certification
A standard airworthiness certificate is the FAA's official authorization allowing for the operation of a type certificated aircraft. A standard airworthiness certificate allows the aircraft to be operated and used with the most minimal restrictions and for compensation and hire. Because type certification is a prerequisite for a standard airworthiness certificate, most UAS do not currently meet the requirements for a standard airworthiness certificate.
Special Airworthiness Certification
A special airworthiness certificate covers a wide variety of aircraft in seven different categories. Special airworthiness certificates limit operation and use of the aircraft, often severely. The most common category of special airworthiness certificates for UAS are those in the experimental category. FAA Order 8130.34D establishes procedures for special airworthiness certification of UAS and optionally piloted aircraft. Special airworthiness certificates in the experimental category may be issued for:
- Research and development
- Showing compliance with regulations
- Crew training
- Market survey
This chart depicts the different options for UAS certification, depending on the type of operation planned:
- Paths to Flight (PDF)