House panel sends bill on small airplane certification requirements to full House

The Small Airplane Revitalization Act reached a major milestone Wednesday when it was unanimously passed out of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee.

It now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

A companion Senate bill was introduced in May.

The bill calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to reorganize certification requirements to streamline the approval of safety advancements.

That would double safety and cut certification costs in half for light general aviation airplanes, supporters say.

Regulatory barriers to bring new designs to market result in a lack of innovation and investment, the bill says. Adoption of the legislation would spur innovation and clear the way for new technology to be adopted, supporters say.

The bill addresses a number of challenges facing the general aviation industry caused by outdated regulation, including the steady decline of pilots, flight activity and the sales of new, small general aviation airplanes, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., who introduced the bill, said in a statement.

The average small airplane in the U.S. is 40 years old.

Since 2003, the U.S. has lost 10,000 active private pilots per year on average, partly because of a lack of new, cost-effective small airplanes, the bill said.

“General aviation has never asked for a bailout, but we can cut red tape and at the same time improve safety, effectively revitalizing the industry by cutting the cost of new planes,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The existing outdated certification process needlessly increases the cost of safety and technology upgrades by up to 10 times. With this bill, we can ensure that the general aviation industry has what it needs to thrive.”

For example, the leading cause of fatalities in general aviation is due to loss of control, in which the airspeed no longer produces the required lift, which causes the plane to descend in an uncontrolled stall or spin without enough altitude to recover, Pompeo’s office has said.

Pilots are taught how to avoid these accidents, but they remain a problem.

There is interest in adding technological interventions to improve safety, such as an “angle-of attack indicator” and “spin-resistant features.”

Today, the cost of adding an angle-of-attack indicator into a noncertified experimental airplane is $800, Pompeo’s office has said. The same equipment for a certified aircraft is $5,000 because of added certification paperwork and testing.

The bill’s passage will help Wichita’s general aviation industry and the industry in general, Pompeo said.

Wednesday’s action was hailed by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the National Business Aviation Association.

“The bill will help industry and FAA develop and adopt more effective, consensus-based compliance standards that would spur manufacturers’ investment in aircraft design and help put critical life-saving equipment into the existing fleet of airplanes,” GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce said in a statement.

The FAA’s Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee, made up of aviation experts and industry representatives, was given 18 months to provide recommendations to the FAA’s Small Airplane Directorate to reorganize certification regulations for Part 23 airplanes, which range from single-engine piston planes to multi-engine jets.

If passed, the bill, which has 31 bipartisan co-sponsors, requires the implementation of those recommendations by the end of 2015.

Recommendations include replacing current, prescriptive certification requirements with performance-based, consensus standards.

Certification regulations would focus on aircraft performance and complexity as their basis written on a “broad, general and progressive” level.

In a Tuesday letter, the National Business Aviation Association and GAMA joined with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association and National Air Transportation Association, urging committee members to act quickly on the bill.

The House will likely take a floor vote between July and September, according to information from Pompeo’s office.