Concerned that more pilots are turning to experimental aircraft instead of upgrading existing certified aircraft, FAA, working with the Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), is exploring ways to ease the flow of new technology into older aircraft, FAA acting Administrator Michael Huerta says.

Huerta, who late last week updated the Wichita Aero Club on the Part 23 ARC activities, says the committee is grappling with how to facilitate the use of non-required safety equipment aboard general aviation aircraft.

“There is a lot of innovation in the marketplace that is taking place today, and we want to make it easier for owners of existing general aviation aircraft to use products that enhance safety,” he says.

Kit builders are equipping their aircraft with the latest safety equipment, Huerta notes, adding that the experimental aircraft fleet has doubled over the last decade while the certified general aviation fleet declined by 10%.

“That’s partly because the experimental segment of the industry is where a recreational aviator can more afford to buy a new aircraft. And the owner can then add safety equipment that’s much newer than in the traditional fleet,” he says. “We need to find a better way to allow good, lifesaving products into existing aircraft so that aviators can upgrade their certified plane, rather than having to go with an experimental aircraft to get new safety equipment.”

Certification costs are substantially higher for certified aircraft, which must undergo a sometimes lengthy process to install new equipment, says Greg Bowles, director of engineering and manufacturing for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and co-chair of the Part 23 ARC. Experimental aircraft, however, do not undergo the same supplemental type certification (STC) process.

He cites as an example an angle of attack (AOA) indicator, which can cost $800 to install on an experimental aircraft – essentially the cost of the part. For a certified aircraft, that cost increases to $8,000 covering the installation and the STC process, he says, noting a substantial portion of that is paperwork.

“We’re driving folks away from certified products,” he says, adding “that’s counter to what we’re supposed to do.”

The ARC is looking at ways to establish a basic safety threshold that would enable the addition of safety equipment without having to go through all of the steps in place today. This could involve a basic standard that could be used for installation of equipment without all of the STC paperwork “as long as it doesn’t distract from the basic safety envelope of the airplane,” he says.

As for the AOA, the ARC is looking at that specifically, with a working group drafting a basic ASTM standard.

Huerta’s speech to the Aero Club last week underscored the backing within the agency for evolving the regulations, at the very least for small aircraft. “FAA is really being progressive here,” Bowles says. “[Agency officials] really do understand the importance of this.”