By Bjorn Fehrm, Henry Tam, and Andrew Telesca.
May 7, 2021, ©. Leeham News: The major challenge with developing commercial aircraft is the certification process. You can’t just develop the aircraft based on your unique knowledge and ideas, you must do it according to a detailed rulebook written with the knowledge from thousands of accidents and incidents.
From the beginning of the design process when you’re thinking about how big your engines would need to be or whether you can carry enough passengers to have a competitive advantage the certification rules influence (and sometimes govern) your design decisions.
Beyond just scrutiny of the design of the vehicle and its components, the process by which it is designed, the production site & methods used, and the organization doing the work all go through certification processes.
Figure 1. The FAA certification rules website. Source: FAA.
The Certification Process of a commercial Aeronautical device
When you review the results of a development project for an airplane, a UAM, or drone, there is one component that is almost always there:
- The certification process took much longer than we planned.
Let’s first go through why we have certification. Today’s certification rules have developed over a century of aviation, and each incident or accident has been reviewed to learn what went wrong.
Independent if it’s Pilots failure or material or some external influence like weather, it results in improved rules for future flights. Otherwise, we don’t learn from experience and continue to hurt or kill people.
We can therefore conclude, certification is there so we learn from experience and can fly without incidents, caused by airplane problems, planning mistakes, air traffic separation, or pilot faults.
Areas that are subject to certification
All the areas around commercial flight are therefore subject to certification scrutiny;
- The airplane, helicopter, UAM, or Drone, can hurt not only any crew or passengers but also the general public on the ground in case of an accident. This includes not only the design of the product but also its components and how it’s put together to ensure what was designed and tested is consistently built. Once built, its continued maintenance, repair, and any modifications are also subject to certification rules.
- The airport for takeoff and landing must be certified. There are rules for parking, tanking, taxing and takeoff, and landing procedures and surfaces. The facilities are heavily scrutinized for everything from runway markings to wildlife control.
- The operation has many governing rules. A person who operates an aircraft for leisure is subjected to very different requirements compared to those of air taxis or airlines. This leads to differences in the preparation of flight and training requirements. For commercial operations, systematic rules for how an organization operates and manages safety (it’s “Safety Management System”) are included in the regulatory process.
- The preparation of flight is subject to strict rules. There are minimum and maximum limits for crew health, weather, fuel calculations, fuel reserves, and what route alternatives are acceptable for flying over large stretches of water.
- How air traffic control is done in the different phases of flight is strictly prescribed. Commercial flights are seldom flown without active Air Traffic Control, ATC.
- Finally, there are strict rules for commercial crew training and periodic testing of its capabilities. The air safety authorities in each country prescribe what skills are necessary for different types of flight (fair weather only according to Visual Flight Rules ( VFR) or Instrument Flight Rules (IMC) when bad weather is acceptable on the flight).
What we cover in this series
We will focus on the development, production, and support of the air vehicle in this Corner series and leave the other areas for later Corner series.
We will cover larger commercial aircraft like single-aisle and widebody airliners but also the smaller regional types. In addition, we cover the UAM and Drone areas as these are hot right now with hundreds of upstarts getting into such projects without much experience on what to go through.