NTSB Issues Warning over Part 23 Rewrite

The safety board asks an important question: Will small aircraft certification reform lead us down a path we’ll live to regret? Here’s what’s at stake.

Zodiac CH-601
The NTSB voiced concerns over a proposed revised certification process for light airplanes.Zodiac

The National Transportation Safety Board raised serious concerns over the FAA-proposed Part 23 Rewrite proposal, cautioning in comments on the recent notice of proposed rulemaking that the revised certification process for light airplanes could allow inferior designs to slip through the cracks, impacting safety.

The NTSB's concerns are quite similar to the warning about the Part 23 Rewrite published by Flying two years ago.

“Although we appreciate that the NPRM attempts to address certain issues related to our safety recommendations and accident investigations, we are concerned with and have questions about how the new certification process will work,” the NTSB wrote. “We urge the FAA to maintain the necessary level of safety as it continues to develop new pathways to airplane certification.”

The board pointed to the use of “consensus standards” in the design of light sport aircraft, noting that in-flight breakups involving the Zodiac CH-601XL have been traced to “problems, delays and omissions within the consensus standards” that “did not provide adequate protection from catastrophic aerodynamic flutter.” The NTSB says design deficiencies such as this would likely have been caught during Part 23 certification, but perhaps not under the revised Part 23 consensus standards.

As we noted in our April 2014 editorial, the potential pitfalls of certification reform are clear: Unless we learn from the lessons of the LSA market’s failings, we risk repeating those same mistakes. We need to simplify Part 23 regulations to spur innovation and drive down cost, yes, but not at the expense of opening up the GA market to low-quality airplanes produced by a new crop of manufacturers with tenuous financial backing. That would be a recipe for disaster.