(January 2011) Last November a group of 50 members of the F37 committee gathered for its biannual meeting. No, it wasn’t to test a futuristic stealth-fighter aircraft (though, interestingly, a Google search reveals the F/A-37 Talon is one of the fictional aircraft used in Hollywood films). Indeed, on the surface F37 is seemingly much less captivating and more mundane than the fictional aircraft — but with real-world application: the ASTM International Technical Committee F37 on Light Sport Aircraft.
First, a bit of background: All of the ASTM International Technical Committees work within the framework of ASTM International. The not-for-profit organization, which has some 30,000 members in some 135 countries, according to its website, provides a forum for its members to develop and publish international voluntary consensus standards for materials, products, services and systems. Dry, I know. But you might be surprised to know that these standards guide the manufacture of products found in most of our everyday lives, from the brick and mortar of our homes to the fuel additives in our cars (and airplanes) and even in the development of systems for not-so-ordinary unmanned aircraft, just to name a few (there are some 12,000 ASTM standards in use today).
The F37 segment of ASTM International is composed of 250 volunteer members worldwide. Seven years into the Sport Pilot/LSA rule, F37, though still nascent in terms of the ASTM International’s century-plus history, has authored and received FAA acceptance of active standard practices and systems governing LSA. Within that same time frame, some 3,000 S-LSA have been manufactured based on these standards. Standards include those for maintenance, continued airworthiness, continued operational safety monitoring, production acceptance test requirements, airframe emergency parachutes, quality assurance, design and performance, compliance audits, POHs … the list goes on.
Which brings me back to F37’s biannual meetings, which serve as a backdrop for the committee to continually develop, maintain and hone the LSA standards. FAA Small Airplane Directorate Manager Earl Lawrence brought several of the aforementioned to the fore during the Nov. 2-3 gathering in Tampa, Florida. Lawrence identified actions the FAA would like to see taken by F37 as far as S-LSA standards are concerned. They include:
• Manufacturers establishing certified personnel to attest that the manufacturers are in compliance with the standards. Currently, anyone can sign off on them.
• The use of ballistic chutes and inflatable restraints in newly manufactured S-LSAs.
Lawrence also pointed out that if the committee wants to expand the category, such as allowing S-LSA to operate in IMC, it has to get the basics right first.
Some of those basics include the need for third-party audits instead of the current practice of allowing the manufacturer’s internal personnel to conduct the audit.
The group also covered ground on condensing the quality assurance standards from the current six documents into one concise document the manufacturers can reference, and it addressed recommendations regarding the FAA’s notice of acceptance on updating the POH standards so the POHs align better with the format found in Part 23 POHs, making it easier for pilots to transition between the two categories.
And that’s how F37 works … in the real world.
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