The Part 23 Rewrite and Your Wallet

"Half the cost" of certification doesn't equal half the price for buyers. Here's why.



Pipistrel's Panthera single.

Much has been said and written about the FAA’s plans to overhaul the decades-old regulations governing the certification of Part 23 airplanes. The new regulations, we are told, will cut certification costs in half. These savings will be passed along to consumers – that is, us pilots. Congress likes the idea so much that it has crafted legislation that will hold the FAA accountable by requiring the agency to adopt the new regs by the end of 2015, somewhat earlier than the FAA had been aiming for.

There’s just one problem with the plan. The FAA isn’t doing much certifying of anything these days. Arguing that the impact of sequestration has essentially tied its hands, the FAA’s certification branch is telling companies that make general aviation products that they simply don’t have the resources to perform all the certification work that’s required right now. Even NextGen, the FAA’s ambitious plan to overhaul the nation’s air traffic infrastructure, is facing slowdowns because of the budget cuts.

Now, some see a conspiracy, although I’m not really convinced. But here’s the theory: Remember when the FAA threatened to close scores of towers and then furloughed air traffic controllers, leading to crippling air travel delays? There was a public outcry, Congress stepped in and the controllers were back on the job within days. That’s what you call the squeaky wheel getting the grease. Some people in the industry I’ve talked with believe that the certification folks at the FAA have seen how well the tactic worked for controllers and they are now testing it out for themselves. Certification approvals have slowed, some contend, because certain factions within the FAA are trying to make the point that what they do is important and needs to be funded adequately. They’re just waiting for the outcry.

Whether that's true or not really isn’t important. The fact is, the FAA is facing a serious budget crunch and certifications have indeed slowed to a trickle. That’s affecting competition, which directly impacts the pace of innovation not to mention pricing.

Which takes us back to the question of whether the Part 23 rewrite will indeed cut the certification costs of new general aviation airplanes in half. The details are still under discussion by a committee comprised of FAA and industry representatives. There is great excitement that the rewrite of Part 23 will usher in lower prices for you and me. But here’s the reality: even if certification costs half as much, don’t expect what you'll pay for a newly certified GA airplane to suddenly be half what it otherwise would have been. I fear we’re setting ourselves up for the same disappointment we experienced when we all thought LSAs would sell for an average of around $50,000 a copy, and the reality turned out to be closer to $150,000.

We’ll certainly see a drop in prices for certain products, like terrain awareness systems and traffic avoidance gear and angle of attack indicators and seatbelt airbags, for instance. That’s great, but just don’t expect prices for new airplanes suddenly to drop to half what they are now. The economic realities of aircraft production guarantee that won't happen.

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