FAA, which has faced substantial criticism over its lengthy certification processes, released guidance to simplify approvals for a key safety instrument for general aviation aircraft.

The new streamlined procedures for angle of attack (AOA) indicators are part of a multi-faceted effort by FAA and the general aviation community to improve general aviation safety. The units, which are not required equipment on general aviation aircraft, measure the angle between the wing and oncoming air, providing a warning of potential for stall.

AOA units are commonly found on military and large civil aircraft, but the cost of certification has discouraged installation on small aircraft. An operator of an experimental aircraft, which does not need to follow normal certification channels, had been able to install an indicator for about $800. But for certified aircraft, the cost increases to $5,000.

The Part 23 Reorganization Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) had highlighted the AOA as an example of the need to overhaul certification standards and facilitate the development of new safety technologies.

The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GASJC), charged with developing suggestions for improving safety, had identified loss-of-control accidents as a leading cause of fatal general aviation airplane accidents, and in 2012 recommended that FAA develop policies to facilitate installation of AOA devices.

“This AOA policy is a solid step forward to facilitate the streamlined installation of safety enhancing equipment in general aviation airplanes and demonstrates what industry and FAA collaboration can achieve,” says Jens Hennig, vice president of operations for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and co-chair of the GASJC’s Safety Analysis Team. “This is a first step and GAMA will continue to work with the FAA to identify ways by which we can further improve the safety of the existing fleet.”

Hennig adds the policy is consistent with the Part 23 Reorganization ARC, which proposed a framework to certification that is designed to bring safety equipment to market much more quickly and at half the cost.

FAA in the past couple of years has spotlighted general aviation safety as one of the agency’s top priorities. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has highlighted the issue in a number of speeches over the past year, and just this month held a General Aviation Safety Summit with GA leaders.

The issue is of such importance to FAA that the agency released a press release to announce the new AOA approval procedures, and both Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Huerta made statements. “We are improving safety by streamlining regulations and cutting red tape – a win-win situation,” Foxx says.

“We have eliminated major barriers so pilots can add another valuable cockpit aid for safety,” adds Huerta. “These indicators provide precise information to the pilot, and could help many avoid needless accidents.”

The FAA policy calls for AOA indicator systems to meet American Society for Testing and Materials (ATSM) standards. Manufacturers would apply for FAA approval through a letter certifying that the equipment meets ATSM standards and is produced under required quality systems. This process, which replaces the traditional certification process, is similar to that used for light-sport aircraft, which must be designed to ATSM standards, and then the manufacturer certifies that it met those standards.

FAA, which has also been heavily criticized for an inconsistent approach to approvals, will process all AOA applications through its Chicago Aircraft Certification Office “to ensure consistent interpretation of the policy,” the agency says.

FAA is hoping to use the process as a prototype for approvals and installation of other aircraft systems in the future, the agency says.