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FAA to Rework Helicopter Certification Standards

Aug. 25, 2014

Following a request for comment from rotorcraft industry stakeholders, and in line with previously announced actions to streamline Part 23 certification requirements for light fixed-wing aircraft, the FAA has announced it will also examine making significant revisions to the certification process for helicopters.

Part 27 of the Federal Aviation Regulations covers certification of helicopters with gross weights of 7,000 pounds or less, and nine or fewer seats. Larger, transport-category helicopters are certified under Part 29. The FAA sought public comment in February 2013 on the need to revise certification rules following the agency's denial of a request from Bell Helicopter to certify under Part 27 the eight-seat Bell 429 to a maximum gross weight of 7,500 pounds.

Bell had sought the exemption to accommodate additional safety equipment on the 429 – including cockpit voice and flight data recorders, a terrain avoidance system and dual autopilots – without a penalty to the helicopter's rated useful load.

In its July 31 announcement, the FAA acknowledged that, "the evolution of Parts 27 and 29 has not kept pace with technology and the capability of rotorcraft produced currently." The agency also noted that, of the 48 comments received from helicopter operators, trade associations and other industry stakeholders, only three were in favor of maintaining the current standards.

Mark Larsen, NBAA senior manager for safety and flight operations, noted that the FAA's apparent willingness to revisit its rotorcraft certification standards follows work to overhaul certification standards for light fixed-wing aircraft and related equipment. Last year, President Obama signed the Small Aircraft Revitalization Act of 2013, which formally enacted legislation to modify the Part 23 certification process in light of technology and safety advances. The legislation was supported and promoted by NBAA and other general aviation stakeholder groups.

"Whether speaking of fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, these efforts to bring certification requirements in line with current technologies will streamline the overall burden that manufacturers will ultimately need to adhere to in seeking regulatory approvals for new aircraft and systems," Larsen said.

Although the agency has not yet announced how it will go about seeking recommendations for changes to Part 27 and Part 29, Larsen expects the FAA will again pursue a joint working group comprised of agency officials and industry stakeholders, similar to the Aviation Rulemaking Committee whose recommendations ultimately led to the revisiting of Part 23 certification standards.

The last revision to rotorcraft certification standards came in 1999, when the agency bumped the maximum gross weight under Part 27 from 6,000 to 7,000 pounds, based on recommendations from an ARC comprised of international regulatory agencies and rotorcraft manufacturers.