How much certification do we really need?

May 11, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

The financial turkeys are coming home to roost as the country deals with budget deficits as far as the eye can see. So government is scaling back in non-essential areas. But what’s “non-essential.” Where do some of the FAA’s certification costs come into play?

The FAA certifies pretty much everything that goes on or into aircraft. Most of it works pretty well and we have very few accidents that occur because of a design or manufacturing deficiency. Most of us would probably agree that airframes and engines should be as close to bullet proof as possible. But there is a significant cost -some would say huge – for some of the benefits. Safety at any cost is transportation and utility denied. The cost in factory-built Light Sport Aircraft  is much lower (but not low enough for some) due to the industry consensus standard.

But what about non-flight-critical avionics or those that have redundancy?  The Air Safety Institute, in the past has asked the FAA to not inject themselves into weather detection for Part 91 operations. The industry has done a marvelous job with satellite datalink weather. The systems have evolved very quickly over the 15 years or so and at very low cost. Airline pilots have often lusted after some of the gear we have but for Part 121 it has to be certified – that’s as it should be. My sense is that if the FAA had insisted on nexrad datalink certification, the equipment would not be in nearly as many cockpits today, many fewer flights would have been completed and arguably, there would have been more accidents.

Could the case be made that for Part 91 ops perhaps perfect is getting in the way of the good? Most legacy aircraft were certificated under CAR-3 and that regulation that has performed exceptionally well. Is Part 23 that much better and at what additional cost? There are standards that are appropriate for some really high performance aircraft that are also being applied to trainers. Maybe there should be a Part 23 Lite?

The Garmin 496 and 696  show much of the same things and perform equally or nearly so to panel mounted equipment, but with a big price differential. FAA Administrator Babbitt has noted that there are 2,200 certification projects that might be delayed because of impending budget cuts. Perhaps not all of them are worthy of such deep scrutiny.

What do you think?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Bob Van Zant

    I completely agree that certification costs are extremely high. The experimental market seems to have this figured out. They’ve got awesome toys on the cheap.

  • Steve

    We need to get the FAA focused on things that matter. Most of their zeal is spent on “gotchas” that have nothing to do with real safety of flight.

  • Thomas Boyle

    Is the Pope Catholic?

    Is it dark at night?

    Are you really asking, or are you just afraid to say what you really think?

  • Bruce Landsberg

    Thomas…. I try not to lead the witness. I always ( well mostly) have an opinion but there really are divergent views worthy of consideration. One of the good things about this blog ( if anything) is it provides a pulse on what others are thinking.

    The civil discourse and opportunity weigh in on neutral ground is something that is sometimes in short supply in our over stimulated world.

  • Rod

    Medical certification is an illusion and statistically completely unnecessary.

  • Thomas Trotter

    Agree with Rod. Medical for VFR pilots, flying Aircraft, under 6,000 lbs, not for hire, is statisticly unsupported!!!! Fly bi-annual and let instructor/inspector do ther job. Defund the FAA!!!!!

  • Mark McDaniel

    Agree with Rod and Thomas: Defund and curtail the FAA. Medical certification are making pilots less healthy through fear of consequences of treatments. Certification expenses have left the certified fleet 30 years behind the experimental fleet. Thanks FAA for providing a lot of bureaucracy and expense while keeping us less safe.

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