Technological advances and growing constraints on government spending are two key factors challenging aviation regulators' abilities to approve new rotorcraft types and the enhancements of old ones, according to industry leaders.
Many helicopter operators want new safety features that improve situational awareness and reduced pilot workload, according to one senior executive of a major OEM, but adding them would add weight to the aircraft." An OEM should not be weight-penalized for trying to include the best safety features possible," this executive said.
An executive from a different OEM said the current helicopter airworthiness certification process does not seem to take advantage of advancements in aircraft structural design and engine design performance. The current scheme of two major categories of rotorcraft certification (normal and transport) robs OEMs of "the capability to design, manufacture, and have an aircraft certified based on the aircraft’s overall flight test performance capabilities."
Rotorcraft regulators work hard to find more efficient means of processing type-certificate and supplemental type-certificate applications, a senior trade association official said. But they remain understaffed, and "it is difficult to conceive of increased governmental resources in the future." As a result, this official said, bureaucratic constraints "at this level will serve to limit the capabilities of the rotorcraft industry."
These were among the host of concerns voiced in 2013, when the FAA solicited public comment on interest in restructuring rotorcraft airworthiness standards. (You can read the comments at www.regulations.gov. Search for docket FAA-2013-0144.)
Those and other concerns persist today; they are heard regularly in industry gatherings like last March's Heli-Expo and April's FAA Rotorcraft Safety Forum.
The persistence of those concerns is one reason why Rotor & Wing International is organizing the Rotorcraft Certification Summit for Oct. 27 near DFW International Airport. You can find the agenda for this event, as well as a list of speakers and location and registration information, at www.rotorcraftsummit.com.