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Clearing Hurdles to Innovation, Safety 

By Staff Writer | June 1, 2015
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Technological advances, like Sikorsky’s X2, have long outpaced the strictures of airworthiness certification rules.

International rotorcraft manufacturing leaders will be working over the next several months to define a framework for a joint review of U.S., European and Canadian standards for the certification of vertical-lift aircraft.

Their objective is to work with the top international rotorcraft regulators to identify and remove regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles to swifter implementation of technological advances and safety enhancements in helicopters, tiltrotors and future vertical-lift aircraft. A number of factors beyond that objective play into the initiative.

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For one, certification is getting more expensive as rotorcraft get more sophisticated, particularly in their adoption of advanced flight controls and aircraft systems management avionics. The cost to gain type certification of new, medium, twin-engine helicopter now exceeds $1 billion, according to some industry officials.

For another, budget crunches in the U.S. and Europe mean that regulators there will have fewer resources (in terms of skilled personnel and funding) to oversee a growing number of certification applications, some of which are increasingly complicated.

In addition, some top safety officials are bracing for the prospect that the International Helicopter Safety Team (IHST) will miss its goal of achieving an 80 percent reduction in the number of helicopter accidents worldwide from 2006’s level. The IHST’s self-imposed deadline for achieving that goal is next year.

Lastly, regulators show signs of shifting their safety focus. At the FAA Rotorcraft Safety Conference April 21-23 in Hurst, Texas, for instance, top FAA rotorcraft officials said they want to take a close look at why occupant protection equipment has not been incorporated as fast in helicopters as it has been in automobiles. They are soliciting a discussion with industry input on helicopter survivability and proposing to review their internal procedures to identify easily cleared obstacles to improved survivability measures.

That concern is driven by the fact that IHST data shows that while annual accident totals have declined since it began work nine years ago, annual fatal accidents have not.

The work underway to assess the need for a review and reorganization of rotorcraft airworthiness standards is a direct result of the success of industry and international regulator collaboration on a reorganization of the U.S. Federal Aviation Regulations Part 23 and European Aviation Safety Agency Certification Specifications (CS) 23 governing type certification of general aviation and small commercial airplanes. Over the course of several years, regulators and manufacturers collaborated on a review of those rules.

Recommendations from that work are being acted on now in the U.S. and Europe.

For example, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) in March praised EASA for issuing an Advanced Notice of Proposed Amendment to modernise the way smaller airplanes are certified. “We are pleased to see EASA take this important step forward,” GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce said.

The proposed rule is largely based on the work of the FAA’s Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which was co-chaired by GAMA and included participation of international aviation authorities and global industry.

Building on Success

GAMA President Pete Bunce has praised international efforts to revamp Part 23, which is a model for the rotorocraft rules review.

The CS/Part 23 initiative “seeks to increase the safety of general aviation airplanes and promote the introduction of new technologies while reducing the burden and costs of certification by focusing on safety performance requirements,” Bunce said. “The prescriptive means of compliance are being set through globally agreed-upon consensus standards” developed collaboratively “international regulators, manufacturers, and the global aviation community. Under the initiative, each of the world’s aviation authorities will modernise its design certification rules.

Given GAMA’s success with the CS/Part 23 reorganization, that trade group is leading the efforts to craft a framework for reviewing CS/Parts 27 and 29 governing rotorcraft certification. It is working with the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD).

The 27/29 initiative “has come out as a direct consequence of the restructuring and reorganization of Part 23 and the success that the FAA, EASA and industry have had in putting forward a more streamlined set of regulations and the construction of acceptable means of compliance,” said Jonathan Archer, GAMA’s director of engineering and airworthiness. “We were then able to transfer those into industry-consensus standards using the standards development organization ASTM International. “

The FAA solicited industry interest in a review of Parts 27 and 29 in 2013 and received dozens of responses. The agency was spurred to do so by language in the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, specifically Section 312, “Aircraft Certification Process Review and Reform.” That section of the law continues to drive implementation of numerous improvements to the certification process. Those include the FAA’s revisions of its procedures for processing applications for supplemental type certificates and its management of Organization Designation Authorizations held by original equipment manufacturers and major modification shops.

But Archer said the response to the FAA’s notice was a clear indication that “there isn’t a strong regulatory framework in place for the introduction of new technology.”

The CS/Part 27 and 29 initiative ultimately seeks to create such a framework.

Discussions with the FAA’s Rotorcraft Directorate established that “there is a window of opportunity for industry to propose a set of recommendations on areas within Parts 27 and 29 that could be prioritized and reviewed or restructured,” said Walter Desrossier, GAMA’s vice president of engineering and maintenance. That window of opportunity was created in part by Section 312.

At Heli-Expo in Orlando last March, GAMA officials met with international manufacturers’ representatives to begin discussions toward that goal.

“A key question is whether the subject of the review is the whole Parts 27 and 29 or just key areas that the industry feels are the biggest bottlenecks,” Archer said. “Alternately, we may want to look at how changing certain sections might introduce the greatest safety benefits in a streamlined fashion.”

Another potential benefit is harmonization of certification standards across borders. The disparity in certification standards and their interpretation was highlighted by Bell Helicopter’s petition to increase the maximum takeoff weight of its 429 by 500 pounds beyond the Part 27 limit of 7,000 pounds. A higher maximum takeoff weight would trigger certification to the more stringent standards of Part 29.

A number of aviation authorities around the world granted Bell’s petition, including Transport Canada. But EASA and the FAA rejected it. One reason was a concern that such an exception would give Bell an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

GAMA’s coordination with ASD is critical. Since the Heli-Expo meeting, the groups have been working to forge a broader consensus among U.S. and European manufacturers “so we can have a complete EASA/FAA perspective, which will then drive a more harmonized set of regulations,” Desrossier said.

“The importance of any kind of review and any kind of recommendation, especially to change something as foundational as airworthiness standards is that they be consensus recommendations.”

CS/Part 27 and 29 are the basis of the world’s rotorcraft standards, he said.

Harmonization is critical, Desrossier said. “For rotorcraft manufacturers, theirs is a global market. If we try to propose changes to those standards and we don’t do it in a harmonized way to get global buy in, then ultimately it’s not going to facilitate the ability for a manufacturer to use those new standards.,” he said. “You can’t design and certify to a new standard if it is not going to recognized and accepted globally.

The industry representations are to work through the third quarter of this year in developing recommendations for a framework review. Those recommendation are to circulated to the broader industry in late 2016. After that, the groups would make their proposals for a review to EASA, the FAA and Transport Canada.

FAA Seeks More Scientific Evidence On Aircraft Noise and Communities

The FAA plans to shortly begin work on the next step in a multi-year effort to update the scientific evidence on the relationship between aircraft noise exposure and its effects on communities around airports.

“The FAA is sensitive to public concerns about aircraft noise. We understand the interest in expediting this research, and we will complete this work as quickly as possible,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Beginning in the next two to three months, the FAA will contact residents around selected U.S. airports through mail and telephone to survey public perceptions of aviation noise throughout the course of a year.

This will be the most comprehensive study using a single noise survey ever undertaken in the U.S., the agency said, polling communities surrounding 20 airports nationwide. To preserve the scientific integrity of the study, the FAA cannot disclose which communities will be polled.

The FAA obtained approval from the Office of Management and Budget last week to conduct the survey and hopes to finish gathering data by the end of 2016. The agency will then analyze the results to determine whether to update its methods for determining exposure to noise.

The framework for this study was developed through the Airports Cooperative Research Program (ACRP), which is operated by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences. This methodology will be used to determine whether to change the FAA’s current approach, as well as consideration of compatible land uses and justification for federal expenditures for areas that are not compatible with airport noise.

Aircraft noise is currently measured on a scale that averages all community noise during a 24-hour period, with a ten-fold penalty on noise that occurs during night and early morning hours. The scientific underpinnings for this measurement, known as the Day-Night Average Sound Level (DNL), were the result of social surveys of transportation noise in the 1970s.

In 1981, the FAA established DNL 65 decibels as the guideline at which federal funding is available for soundproofing or other noise mitigation. This method was reaffirmed in studies conducted during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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