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How the FAA Works Against Safety

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I know by firsthand experience that AVweb finds its way into the upper reaches of the FAA's HQ at 800 Independence Avenue in Washington. What I don't know is this: Do the gentle people inhabiting FAA's mahogany row have a clue of how their lower minions are carrying out their jobs? Do they have even the vaguest control over the far flung offices? Do they even care? Would they be surprised to know that the FAA's actions are sometimes counter safety?

Here's where I'm going with this. For Aviation Consumer, I've been doing some extensive research on LED lighting, specifically landing lights. This is, by the way, fabulous technology. It's improving in leaps and bounds, it's getting ever cheaper and is becoming a significant market force in the general lighting market. Yet the FAA has done its level best to keep these benefits from trickling down to aviation.

Here's how: All of the manufacturers of these products have approached the FAA for some kind of approval, even though it's not clear that any is needed. The FARs are vague on the subject, requiring only that bulbs have enough light for night operations and not present a fire hazard. That's it. The venerable GE 4509 bulb—the gold standard for landing lights—carries no TSO or PMA of any kind. It's just a bulb.

Yet, say the makers of LEDs, they are often asked by regional FAA ACO offices to conduct a battery of tests on LED products to prove…to prove what? A reading of the FARs would suggest all they need to prove is that the bulb generates sufficient light and isn't a fire hazard. Even basic common sense knowledge of LEDs can answer these questions without requiring expensive tests, which one manufacturer told me ran to high five figures — and it still doesn't have the approval.

Another said its ACO insisted that the LED behave just like a 4509--same too-narrow asymmetric beam width and even the same mounting notch in the rim (wholly unnecessary). When I asked if this didn't dumb down potentially improved technology to the limitations of the old, I was told that...why yes, it does. That the product is still better than the 4509 is a testament to LED technology.

Yet another company told me its ACO refused to approve a LED bulb, refused to explain how such a product could be tested and approved and then said it was too busy to take on the project anyway. This has forced some companies to shop for ACOs that have a more realistic approach to the FAA's oversight and safety role. What that involves is an ACO culture that lucidly balances benefit against risk. In other words, any fool with a lick of sense would know that LEDs are a huge improvement over failure-prone incandescent bulbs and the risk of them causing any harm to the aircraft is too trivial to worry about.

It's probably not unreasonable to ask a manufacturer to do simple RFI trials. But even that might be overkill. At the FSDO level, some offices routinely approve Form 337 requests (good for them) for LED installs while others refuse, for no imaginable reason other than they can.

Where the FAA's actions turn strikingly counter safety is that if more LEDs were out there, pilots would tend to leave them on constantly, thus improving conspicuity and reducing the risk of mid-airs. Moreover, LEDs can easily be configured as always-on flashers—some of the products out there do that. Yet manufacturers have been reluctant to pursue the flasher approach because it complicates an already Byzantine—and entirely unnecessary—approval process. So the bottom line is, thanks to FAA actions, valuable safety technology is kept from the market for no particular reason other than bureaucratic intransigence. Even when it does make it to market, it is more expensive by dint of the make-work testing.

And by the way, if I wanted one of these LEDs for a certified airplane—and I do—I'd simply install it, approval or not. My interpretation of the FARs indicates I'm in compliance if the lamp provides sufficient light and doesn't present a fire hazard. I deem myself smart enough to determine both. Furthermore, since there's no such thing as an approved landing light bulb anyway, I'm miles away from the stench of unapproved parts. Like I said, common sense. There are little capillaries of it in the FAA, but the veins run dark with baffling illogic and flawed thinking.

Comments (65)

There must be a corollary to the "easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission" along the lines of "if you don't need permission then don't ask for it."

Posted by: Christopher Weiss | August 29, 2010 7:07 PM    Report this comment

You forget another argument : on LEDs (let's say all the lights including panel), with an alternator failure at night, one would have a couple extra minutes of electricity thanks to the lower current draw of LEDs. There is similar lack-of-risk-assessment capability within the FAA when it comes to electronic ignition. There's no need for any solution to be perfect, as long as it bests the current one. Did you know the basics of a good ADHRS can be bought for just about $250 ? How many backups are that for a single gyro ? Not to mention weight. This isn't a fresh problem either, just ask the Starship engineers. Thank God for experimentals, or do you think their existance just serves as an excuse for the FAA's lethargy ?

Posted by: Peter De Ceulaer | August 30, 2010 7:24 AM    Report this comment

I bet if General Electric was looking for approval of LED landing lights, it would happen.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | August 30, 2010 8:03 AM    Report this comment

I am forever baffled by the idea that different FAA STANDARDS offices have different STANDARDS. How can an agency charged with ensuring that everyone in aviation does everything the same NOT have clear standards for all its standards offices to follow?

In my mind NOT approving a clearly superior product is simply existance justification. "Look what we did! Without us, industry would engage in the willy-nilly use of unproven products, thereby endangering pilots and the general public -- aren't we necessary?"

Posted by: Mark Sletten | August 30, 2010 8:03 AM    Report this comment

This is what all bureaucracies do. We must find a way to stop this or the FAA will totally kill aviation. They are already off to a good start. This is not for our protection, it is to protect their power. We need a bureaucracy eliminating revolution.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | August 30, 2010 8:13 AM    Report this comment

I did that over 5 years ago. Part 43 says I can replace bulbs so I did. It's rated at 12V and 100W so there is no issue at all. There is no need for any kind of "approval" when installing a replacement bulb from a different manufacturer.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2010 8:17 AM    Report this comment

As a follow up, NEVER ASK THE FSDO if something is legal. Even if it is they will tell you it's not. Job security for them?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2010 8:18 AM    Report this comment

Can you imagine the FAA reaction if the situation was reversed - the LEDs were the historical standard and approval was sought for a 4509 bulb. "Are you crazy? You want to put a heat emitting, piece of glass near the engine compartment."

Posted by: John Krug | August 30, 2010 9:29 AM    Report this comment

LED's are safer, more durable and cost less than incandescent bulbs. The landing light on our 1967 Mooney needs replacing every single year. I guess LED's just make too much sense to get official FAA blessing!

Posted by: Ric Lee | August 30, 2010 9:49 AM    Report this comment

Outside of wether the lights are better or need approval or not part of the problem is something that I have obsserved in other approving bureaucratic regulatory situations. The incentive created for the approving signatory person is negative so the "easy/job safe" answer is always "no" and keep the status quo. If they approve the better/safer/cheaper design, there is typically little personal upside or recognition for it. If they approve the new design and some problem arises our risk averse society (and their management) will have them suffer "demotion, job loss, etc. The FAA would need to incentivize the approval effort so its employees have reason to exceed the status quo and further innovation.

Posted by: Gregg Waligroski | August 30, 2010 10:59 AM    Report this comment

Reminds me of engine analyzers . . . the factory gauge CHT probe was useless, but I had to use a spark-plug gasket probe on that most-likely-to-overheat cylinder because the engine analyzer's more accurate probe couldn't replace it. So the most crucial cylinder was the least well monitored.

Posted by: David Chuljian | August 30, 2010 11:16 AM    Report this comment

I don't blame the ACOs for refusing to approve the LED bulb because there is no approval needed. They should, however, be able to state that the approval is not needed.

Posted by: Christopher Weiss | August 30, 2010 11:55 AM    Report this comment

And this discussion is part of the overall discussion for low-cost ADS-B as well. When approval is so ... ridiculous, why bother with the certified market at all?

Posted by: JT McDuffie | August 30, 2010 12:03 PM    Report this comment

There is an issue LEDs that, so far, hasn't been discussed. They don't get hot. I used to fly Hawkers. The old landing/taxi light bulbs would get very hot eliminating the need for wing anti-ice over the bulb lenses. With LEDs, the area will ice over. The same goes for runway and taxiway lights. They ice over. That's what the FAA is hung up on.

Posted by: John Williams | August 30, 2010 12:13 PM    Report this comment

Single GA planes are not certified for icing conditions anyway. If you're icing up so badly that it covers your landing light, then the landing light is the least of your worries at that point...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2010 12:37 PM    Report this comment

It's just bureaucracy 101...if you ask a person who doesn't have the requisite education and experience to sign his/her name on an approval, he/she will always refuse to do so, citing whatever reason that comes to mind in the name of CYA. I was a test pilot in the CAA/FAA for 8 years and viewed this game many times. Standardization? Forget it. I used to think that, for flight test, a national test center might help in that regard, but the hundreds of field and STC approvals argue against that idea, and they are good and should be encouraged. How about this? Pull all the ACOs into a national center and send out teams to deal with the smaller (but important) field approval and STC work. Expand the Experimental (homebuilt)flight test certification to cover the really small stuff, with the insurance companies increasing their scope of coverage accordingly.

It really used to hurt, watching smart operators play one Regional Center against another in the STC business; apparently now it's ACO against ACO. That's what originated the National Test Center in my mind.

James M. Patton, Jr.

Posted by: James Patton | August 30, 2010 12:58 PM    Report this comment

The incentive created for the approving signatory person is negative so the "easy/job safe" answer is always "no" and keep the status quo.

Gregg and all,

that's good microeconomic theory, but what's the reality? Does anybody remember the last time FAA fired anybody? A few years ago an absentminded controller cleared two aircraft to occupy the same space at the same time, in Sarasota, FL, and she was right back at work after token "retraining." She killed four people. She, and the FAA, took zero responsibility. That's the norm.

So the answer to, "What do you have to do at FAA to get fired, kill somebody?" is, "Nope, even that doesn't do it."

Maybe government workers do fear unemployment, of course, however irrational that fear is. But I see a bigger factor in their motivation (or lack of the same) just being their individual personalities. Most FAA folks are decent and reasonable. I've also seen a lot of FAA workers busting their necks, going the extra mile to help people, to promote safety, and I don't think they're doing that because their jobs give them positive reinforcement or incentives either.

Posted by: Kevin O'Brien | August 30, 2010 1:01 PM    Report this comment

>>single GA airplanes not certified for known ice<<

You might let Mooney and Cirrus know that. They've been selling icing-approved singles for a while.

Easy solution is to just require those airplanes to have a conventional bulb or...just ignore it. Even Nanny has to take a nap once in awhile.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 30, 2010 1:01 PM    Report this comment

>>You might let Mooney and Cirrus know that<<

Just how many Mooney and Cirrus aircraft are know-ice equipped?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 30, 2010 2:06 PM    Report this comment

Last time I checked, ice did not block the passage of light. That's why igloos have ice windows. Also on my Cessna 182, the bulbs are inside a housing, so unless I turned the light on 15 minutes before landing, I'd be iced over anyway. But really, this can't be the reason for objecting to LED's, it's such a rare event.

Posted by: David Chuljian | August 30, 2010 2:20 PM    Report this comment

Dear Paul, I think you may have just validated my point from a previous blog concerning the FAA and the regulatory process. Whatever personality trait that comes to the surface of career bureaocrats seems to thwart the common sense. When arcane and capricous rules take precidence over common sense frustration, anger and inefficiencies result. There is no logical reason to prevent common usage.

Posted by: Burns Moore | August 30, 2010 2:54 PM    Report this comment

But the thing is, there are little pockets of effective, helpful people in the FAA who actually get things done without making it painful for their customers. The Anchorage ACO, for instance, gets consistently positive reviews.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 30, 2010 3:02 PM    Report this comment

I'm sure you're correct, and we do have a much broader field of products to choose from, but it would be nice if we could reduce the total cost of procurement, which I've been told is due to the certification process.

Posted by: Burns Moore | August 30, 2010 3:17 PM    Report this comment

the other benefit is if you use a multi (cluster) led design,you lighten the risk of a complete blackout situation. i'd personally rather have only one led of say 10 fail. with conventional bulbs, if the element inside fails, youre without total light. it makes sense to go this way. i do not own an aircraft, but when i do fly, it is at night quite a bit. i'd feel more confident knowing theres no chance of having a total failure.

Posted by: MICHAEL SULLIVAN | August 30, 2010 3:39 PM    Report this comment

The icing "problem" described by John Williams is an active imagination. Firstly, Hawkers ALREADY HAVE approved LED landing light systems STC'd, and Secondly, the problems in Hawkers with incandescent landing light heat NEVER had anything to do with icing. It has to do with the incandescent lamps melting the plastic lens, which is part/parcel of the structural integrity of the leading edge. LEDs actually SOLVE that problem. Let's try to keep anecdotes and imaginary problems out of meaningful discustions.

Posted by: George Horn | August 30, 2010 5:36 PM    Report this comment

Paul-

Other than promulgating the typical "FAA bad, We're good" theory what is your point.

You question the value of the FAA - are you proposing to roll the clock back 50 years and boot them out? I vote NO if I have to live with the aviation safety record of the 1950's.

This "fool" sees no value in installing LED's if they can't be shown to meet the regulatory requirements. Certainly the incandesant bulbs were shown to meet them. And certainly a multitude of manufacturers are installing LED bulbs in their products and getting them certified. You failed to mention either of those items.

So it sounds to me like you've become the mouth piece to a number of bulb manufacturers/wannabe installers who can't figure out how to get their product to market. And rather than accept their own ineptitude the two of you have chosen blame everyone else.

How about you follow this up with "lawyers are killing aviation" blog and we'll round the day out with a full court whine.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | August 30, 2010 6:39 PM    Report this comment

This "fool" sees no value in installing LED's if they can't be shown to meet the regulatory requirements.<<

What regulatory requirements? Show me the paperwork, PMA and TSO on the 4509. Lemme know when you find it.

You work for the FAA, no?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 30, 2010 6:50 PM    Report this comment

>>How many known ice Cirrus and Mooneys<<

Not sure on the number, but it's not trivial. Cirrus brought their version out not quite two years ago. Mooney has had it for a number of years and owners buy it. FlightIce makes a package for the Bonanza and 210, both known-ice approved.

There are lots of systems flying.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 30, 2010 7:06 PM    Report this comment

Well if you can't read them I will for you.

14 CFR 21 governs the approval of parts and modification of aircraft. One of the most basic tenants in modifying your airplane. But that isn't what is so significant.

More specifically there are requirements under Subpart E of Parts 23 and 25 (we'll stick to fixed wing for today) have a number of requirements for light installations.

14 CFR 23.1391 covers intensity of lights for small airplanes.

Similarly 14 CFR 25.1397 for transport category airplanes.

I highlight both of these because several installers of LED lights have had to seek an Equivalent Levels of Safety in order to meet these requirements. Evidently direct compliance isn't so straightforward.

So I will reiterate again Paul, others have done it so why are you decided to become the mouth piece for those that can't?

No I don't work for the FAA - but I did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | August 30, 2010 7:26 PM    Report this comment

What casual readers of your response may not know is that 23.1391 refers to navigation lights. The part where it says red and green is the clue. Or maybe the title, which is position lights. We're not talking about transport aircraft, so that reference is pointless.

In case you've forgotten or maybe if you'd gotten a good night's sleep in that expensive Holiday Inn Express, the relevant reg is 23.1381, which is appropriately enough entitled: Taxi and landing lights. For your edification, here it is in its elegant brevity:

"Each taxi and landing light must be designed and installed so that:(a) No dangerous glare is visible to the pilots. (b) The pilot is not seriously affected by halation. (c) It provides enough light for night operations."

Now you tell me how something that simple can translate into a year of tests the 4509--a tractor bulb--never had, nor a PMA, nor a TSO. Hey, convince me! Since you think the guys applying for these approvals are just too stupid to figure this out, maybe you could help 'em. Or not.

And here's an extra bonus question. Didja know a landing light isn't even required for Part 91, unless operated for hire? (Look it up in 91.205.) That's why the regs are specific about position lights, but not landing lights.

By the way, being a mouthpiece and all, I'm guessing that daSlob isn't your real last name. If it isn't, would you mind using your real name? We ask that of people here.

Thanks. And I'll buy the coffee at Holiday Inn.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 30, 2010 8:27 PM    Report this comment

The problem I have, Paul, is you provided anticdotal evidence of a problem and yet claim it is proof the entire system is broken.

The FAA has put energy behind getting LED lightning into the industry. LED's for airport lights and nav lights on both small and transport airplanes are just two examples. You are right about landing lights requirements, and since they aren't necessarily required, then maybe it isn't a high enough priority to garner the attention you think it deserves.

However, when you imply that because you cannot plug and play your landing light that the entire FAA is nothing but worthless beuracrats it is unfair. It is particularly disturbing because you speak from a position of authority and have an audience of thousand. However, promoting negative stereotypes does noone any good.

For me, the limited knowledge I have on this issue is enough to make me question you, and sheds a doubt in my mind on the legitamcy of your complaint.

I have to ask, before you posted this did you call anyone in the FAA Small Airplane Directorate and discuss this issue? Because you provided the aftermarket landing light supplier's position but I see nothing from the FAA. Please give us, the aviation consumer, a fair and balanced view of the issue - that is my expectations of AvWeb.

I'm sorry you don't like my last name.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | August 30, 2010 9:46 PM    Report this comment

Also of note is that there is no requirement for older(CAR part3) certified acft. to meet part 23 requirements. And there is no requirement that I can find to use TSO, or PMA parts in a part 91 not for hire Airplane. If you build a kit and use non approved led's when the FAA issues the airworthiness cert all the parts of the airplane have just been "approved", not sure if FAA approved means anything.

Posted by: Greg Price | August 30, 2010 10:34 PM    Report this comment

This is just another example of the long list of hinderances to progress yhat the FAA has carried out. Remember when strobe lights first came to market and the epic battle of whether they could be white or had to be avaition red (whatever the hell that is). LEDs are a great technology, less power,yes, less heat,yes, more reliable, yes, cheaper, not hardly, I don't consider a $325 bulb or $650 anticolision beacon as being cheaper.

Posted by: Al Dyer | August 30, 2010 10:38 PM    Report this comment

The issue that everyone is missing is that an incandescent bulb is passive, but LED lighting likely has a switching power supply which can introduce noise into the electrical system or radiate RF to interfere with Nav radios. So the bulb would have to at least pass RTCA DO-160 testing ( at least for RF emissions ). Any electronics added to the aircraft would need this, and a bulb is no exception - the above references to standards for a landing light obviously not the the issue here. That said, most of DO-160 would likely not apply since the bulb is not required equipment, except for commercial ops.

Posted by: Lee Marzke | August 30, 2010 10:43 PM    Report this comment

Rob:

The FAA has put energy behind getting LED lightning into the industry.

That's the government for you. Measure success by input (alleged effort), not output (results). In the real world outside of the 10-4 workday and expanding bennies of the mandarinate, one is measured by results. This concept is foreign to the lifetime official.

LED's for airport lights and nav lights on both small and transport airplanes are just two examples. You are right about landing lights requirements, and since they aren't necessarily required, then maybe it isn't a high enough priority to garner the attention you think it deserves.

However, when you imply that because you cannot plug and play your landing light that the entire FAA is nothing but worthless beuracrats it is unfair.

B-u-r-e-a-u-c-r-a-t-s. And while they may not be worthless on a macro scale, on the singular subject of landing light approval micromanagement, it is painfully hard to discern where they are adding any value.

It is particularly disturbing because you speak from a position of authority and have an audience of thousand.

...continued...

Posted by: Kevin O'Brien | August 31, 2010 12:11 AM    Report this comment

...cont... It is particularly disturbing because you speak from a position of authority and have an audience of thousand.

One hopes Paul's audience is more than a thousand, singular. But let me get this straight: Paul, a writer who has no official position and whose influence depends entirely on persuasion, which means it depends on his opinions not being drastically at odds with what his readers have experienced, has a "position of authority." Is he like Mr LaHood, a small-time bent politician whose whims now rule us? Like Mr Obama and Mr Bush, grander politicians who, like the emperor of old Japan, we dare not gaze upon, but must remain outside of their 30-40 nm bubble of luminescence? (And the similar one around the First Dog's bespoke Gulfstream?) Or is he more like the FAA officials who let, say, jet warbird LOAs languish for over a year because the one guy who felt like working on them was out with a bad illness? (True story, that).

... promoting negative stereotypes does noone any good.

On the contrary, while some stereotypes may be unfair scapegoating, many stereotypes grow from personal experience. My experiences with FAA'ers have been positive, but they do not move with the purpose and vigor of private actors. That's experience talking, not prejudice.

I believe that is the nature of government agencies in general, not of the people in the FAA... a lot of whom are held back from doing their best by the straitjacket of bureaucratic procedure.

Posted by: Kevin O'Brien | August 31, 2010 12:14 AM    Report this comment

I'll have you know the audience for this blog numbers in the many dozens...perhaps as many as, oh hell, a dozen dozen!

As for contacting the small airplane directorate, we normally do route requests on interviews through the FAA regional offices or HQs. Sadly, we are rarely permitted to talk or even find the staff making these kinds of decisions. Instead, the non-answer comes through the press offices, filtered of much of thinking or reasoning which formed the basis of whatever action is at hand. This is actually getting worse.

Example? I pursued the FAA's Engine and Propellor Directorate for a detailed dialog on why it wouldn't approve GAMI's request for an STC on its fuels project. Referred to the press office, all I got was the standard company boilerplate...the FAA has a procedure and we are following that.

My view is we have the right and expectation of our government to be more responsive informationally. And I, for one, am not going to roll over on that.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 5:22 AM    Report this comment

As for claiming or implying " that because you cannot plug and play your landing light that the entire FAA is nothing but worthless beuracrats it is unfair."

Those are your words and your characterization, not mine. By intent, I tightly focussed this blog on just landing lights and just the FAA's response to the manufacturers I spoke to. You decided to expand the purview of my words beyond the originally clearly stated intent.

What you have here is an example of an agency that could have done its citizens a service by a mere wave of the hand. Instead, institutionally, it did the reverse. This is not my idea of good government.

On the other hand, the fact that every ACO seems to make its own rules and that FSDOs do the same indicates to me a degree of disfunction. The people higher up the chain should know about this and I am drawing attention to it.

I have not persuaded you. Fair enough. Of such stuff is critical thought made.

Note to FAAers reading this blog. I am always open to discussions and guest blogs for anyone willing to be even minimally responsive. Off the record, if you like.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 5:42 AM    Report this comment

There ARE NO REGS for swapping out landing light bulbs (thank goodness!). You are perfectly legal to plug in a replacement bulb of your choosing. You are also perfectly legal to land at night on a dim field with a blown out GE4509.

Both come down to PILOT judgment, not FAA/FSDO regs.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 31, 2010 7:55 AM    Report this comment

Paul, as one of the interested dozens, I agree with much of what you say in your most recent two comments. Particularly the emphasis on government transparency. I understand that the NSA and FBI and Navy and so forth must do some of their work in secrecy, but FAA secrecy defends no national interest.

However, I'm impelled to point out that there's another side to this: On the other hand, the fact that every ACO seems to make its own rules and that FSDOs do the same indicates to me a degree of disfunction.

That other side is that we have a de facto if not de jure federal system here, which permits a degree of experimentation (if you're in the right place). And if you have bureaucratic overreach, the damage it does is localized. Recall a few years back, when one district went nonlinear over giving examinations in airplanes without bilateral toe brakes? (A lot of older airplanes have toe brakes only on the left side. It's not unheard-of for some important flight controls not to be duplicated, prerotators in gyroplanes are another example). The position was overturned in the end, but only because pilots objected and other FAA offices did not agree.

If we had one set of policies for everybody written by the non-flying lawyers at 800 Independence, we'd probably regret it tout de suite.

Posted by: Kevin O'Brien | August 31, 2010 8:25 AM    Report this comment

Kevin--well, you're right about the experimentation part. But it cuts both ways. Let's say one ACO or FSDO is on the libertine end and interprets the regs with the widest possible latitude in favor of the applicant. Good.

At the other end of the spectrum--in the experimental model we are discussing--is an ACO that's freely able to dream up regulations, requirements and tests that simply aren't supported in the FAA's own doctrine and policy. This happens all the time because the people who staff these offices have to make decisions and depending on the level they're at, they can do what they want. Challenging such narrow decisions is difficult and expensive for applicants.

Ostensibly, the FAA's job is to promote safety-to protect us against unsafe pilots, unsafe procedures and policies and dangerous products. How it does that requires expenditure of limited resources. So I'd argue that it try to find ways to not regulate that which needn't be regulated and landing lights are--to give a shining example (sorry)-- prima facie.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 10:09 AM    Report this comment

Wouldn't it be great if an ACO would say to the applicant...these don't need approval for Part 91 aircraft and here's a letter stating such.

I admire the FSDOs who have signed off on some these. In my wild-eyed fantasy world, I imagine that someone looked at this and said, well, it looks okay to me and although there might be some tiny risk, I deem that the benefit outweighs it.

Of course, we both know that bureaucracies don't reward risk taking, they punish for mistakes, thus they are spring loaded to say no and force the entire burden on the applicant. It's just how they work.

But maybe one plaintive voice in the woods from time to time will encourage the voice of reason over the chorus of the lowest common denominator. I know it won't, of course, but the thought at least sustains me as I withdraw into my darkened warren, vainly hoping for an audience of at least 13 dozen.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Boy, I don't know, Paul. Thirteen dozen is an awful lot.

Posted by: Burns Moore | August 31, 2010 11:03 AM    Report this comment

As MLK said, I have a dream...when blogs won't be judged by the color of their prose, but by the content of their characters.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 12:34 PM    Report this comment

A company I consult for has just obtained an STC for HID (high intensity discharge) taxi and landing lights. We are still working through the PMA process. All this has taken over three years.

Posted by: Sandy Pollack | August 31, 2010 12:36 PM    Report this comment

That's because HID is the wrong technology; requiring installing ancillary hardware and power supplies. Basically it's a $600 replacement for a $10 bulb. GA has to have parts that are both CHEAP and EFFECTIVE in order to make sense.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 31, 2010 12:47 PM    Report this comment

At the risk of being accused of putting personality before content, or something, I'd like to add my ha'penceworth to Paul's "when blogs won't be judged by the color of their prose, but by the content of their characters".

Mr Bertorelli, I find your prose lucid, grammatical, to the point and altogether a pleasure to read. I'd much rather meet you in person than many of the other 13 dozen respondents whose comments appear on your blogs. Alas, it's probably not possible, given your country's demonstrated opinions on foreigners.

Posted by: John King | August 31, 2010 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for your kind words. I've very grateful.

As for our opinions on foreigners, I'd counsel to not believe everything you read in the press, which makes a great game of focussing on a noisy, bigoted minority because it's telegenic.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 6:15 PM    Report this comment

I was thinking more of the paperwork and reception given to airline passengers at the major airports of entry. The vast majority of travellers from this part of the world to Europe would much rather go via Asia and avoid the USA altogether. You're missing out on something there.

Posted by: John King | August 31, 2010 7:09 PM    Report this comment

Oh yeah, that. It is pretty terrible, I'll admit. I got pretty well hastled just driving in from Canada last year.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | August 31, 2010 8:31 PM    Report this comment

Excellent article. I work in airplane certification (not for the FAA), and I couldn't agree with you more. The process has become too complex and too expensive. If you imagine multiplying your frustration with LED lighting across all aspects of an airplane, you can easily see why new aircraft Type Certificates are essentially non-existent, except from the large manufacturers who already have people, systems, and money in place to meet all these requirements. And you can further see why those large manufacturers only produce evolutionary improvements of their products. People wonder why TCM and Lycoming are still using 50 year old technology; the answer is because they are HIGHLY incentivized to do so by the regulatory process.

In contrast to others, I didn't take your comments to mean that we need to throw the FAA out. Rather, I took your comments to mean more that the pendulum of "safety" has swung so far that safety is now provided by discouraging anything new. This, unfortunately has the effect of putting all manufacturer's of anything new out of business, or making their products too expensive to produce or purchase.

The FAA's charter is only to promote safety in aviation. Safety must be balanced with business viability, or there won't be any businesses left to provide aviation products and services to regulate.

Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Brian Armstrong | September 1, 2010 10:27 AM    Report this comment

"The icing "problem" described by John Williams is an active imagination. Firstly, Hawkers ALREADY HAVE approved LED landing light systems STC'd, and Secondly, the problems in Hawkers with incandescent landing light heat NEVER had anything to do with icing. It has to do with the incandescent lamps melting the plastic lens, which is part/parcel of the structural integrity of the leading edge. LEDs actually SOLVE that problem. Let's try to keep anecdotes and imaginary problems out of meaningful discustions."

George, George, George - I fully understand the issues with incandescent bulbs on Hawkers. My point was, STC or not, Hawker pilots have told me that with the LEDs installed, their lenses will ice over rendering their landing lights useless. Anecdotal or not, that strikes me as a meaningful issue.

Posted by: John Williams | September 1, 2010 10:51 AM    Report this comment

The FAA is like the US Military. There's a million people to tell you what you can't do, but nobody will tell you what you can do. Nobody want's to take responsibility. Which is funny because it seems there is no accountability anyway.

Posted by: Jim Dunn | September 2, 2010 8:57 AM    Report this comment

As all most know or maybe not, the issue is always liability! Sure, any owner can put anything on their aircraft whether it be TSO's, PMA'd or just plain field approved. Then again, install anything that is not. The issue is that any item installed that is NOT of the original certificate (configuration) when issued creates an un-airworthy aircraft unless that item is TSO'd, PMA'd or Field approved. At that point, the owner has a liability issue if an incident or accident occurs, the insurance company will NOT payoff, and a whole slurry of legal proceedings occur. Let's face it, we live in a materialized nation that survives on materialistic ideologies - we call that imperialism, hence a democratic republic based on personal gain instead of socialism. Yea, I know, it's politics, but that is how the system is. It's your plane, use common sense! The other alternative is to apply for an EXPERIMENTAL certificate (most are granted) which of course has limitations. Are you really going to do that over a lightbulb that really costs less than $50 to make? 4509's cost less than $3 to make!

Posted by: Joeseph Gawlikowski: JoesPiper | September 2, 2010 8:58 AM    Report this comment

At that point, the owner has a liability issue if an incident or accident occurs, the insurance company will NOT payoff, and a whole slurry of legal proceedings occur.<<

Let me offer a response to this. It really is a myth. Several times in Aviation Consumer, we have published articles on this. Insurance companies routinely pay off all sorts of claims in which the pilot conducted an illegal or ill-advised operation, the airplane was out of annual or out of CG or had some unauthorized part or procedure. In other words, they insure stupidity.

The reason is just good business. Aviation insurance is competitive and you can't afford to have a rep of denying claims. It's just cheaper to pay them than to suffer the loss of business.

There are exceptions. But last time we looked at this two years ago, we couldn't find a single one. Perhaps if the part in question is implicated in the accident. Or it's a major liability claim. In any case, denial of claim is not a widespread occurrence.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 2, 2010 9:10 AM    Report this comment

Several versions of LED lights are used on the nose of many ultralights. My practical flight experience has been positive in that it seemed very easy to see these bright light spots during the daytime. I often experienced several minutes before the light closed to a closer view of the aircraft. On this basis I strongly support the use of LED lights on certified aircraft. Anything that adds to collision avoidance should be implemented. In fact I see no reason why one of these lights could not be installed separeatly from the landing lights for daytime collision avoidance and I am thinking about how I can do this on my private aircraft and remain within the rules. There appears to be no objection or airworthiess requirements for the electronic portable collision avoidance systems available for use any aircraft, so what is the problem adding a bright light near the nose or wing as an aid for collision avoidance? It coud be powered by a self contained battey pack and have no interference whatsover with the operaton of the aircraft electrical system, although I see this as unnecesary in light of the fact that LEDs use very little power.

Posted by: Joe Scoles | September 2, 2010 10:35 AM    Report this comment

"I don't blame the ACOs for refusing to approve the LED bulb because there is no approval needed. They should, however, be able to state that the approval is not needed."

Lets be clear about WHAT needs approving. An A&P does not need approval to install an LED light, but a company manufacturing needs approval to SELL it.

If you can find a way or place to buy it, your A&P can install it.

Posted by: David Bunin | September 2, 2010 10:57 AM    Report this comment

Paul,

Great discussion. I apologize for coming late to the party. I have a number of STCs, most through the same Engine and Propeller Directorate to which you referred. Their policies have changed in the last couple of years, however, to the point where the only way you can do business with them is to hire a very expensive DER (read retired FAA engineer)to do all the legwork. Hence the small manufacturer, including me, is priced out of the market.

As to LED replacement lighting not being approved, this is clearly not required. 14CFR 43, Appendix A, Paragraph 1 defines major repairs and alterations. Nowhere in this paragraph is lighting included. That's why the FSDO should not and usually will not approve the 337...it is by definition NOT a major alteration. With no TSO standard, it is left to the installer to use his/her own judgement for the installation. As an IA, I think my judgement is sufficiently well developed for me to sign off this minor alteration in the aircaft records. Same as with a GPS installation. The regs don't address that either, so it is not, in itself, a major alteration and does not require a 337, although the antenna installation might.

Posted by: Howard Fuller | September 2, 2010 11:38 AM    Report this comment

There are times when it is easiest to determine your progress by looking back to see where you have been. I am not an A&P nor have I recently slept in in a Holliday Inn Express and I am totally confused, and by the tone of this thread, I'm not alone. GA is totally wrapped around the axle, trouble is no one knows which axle. Paul, you could make an even bigger fortune by writing a clear, concise, somewhat easily understood handbook for aircraft owners. I had access to a very sharp FAA APM (Aircraft Program Manager) on my fleet at the airline (and was also very well versed in GA) but since he retired I think the last person that really understood this stuff left the building.

Posted by: Burns Moore | September 2, 2010 11:44 AM    Report this comment

As an IA, I think my judgement is sufficiently well developed for me to sign off this minor alteration in the aircaft records. Same as with a GPS installation.<<

Cheers! We need more like you in the industry, although there probably are a lot of you in the industry.

On the question of selling the parts without FAA approval, are you (David) sure about that? There are unapproved LEDs out there for sale. The seller doesn't care how they get used or where they are installed.

Burns, my friend, I am just as confused as you are. It is generally not possible to get lucid answers on regulatory issues from the FAA on matters such as this. On other things, less so.

All I can suggest is a well-developed sense of survival.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 2, 2010 11:51 AM    Report this comment

I think there should be a refresher course on what the AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE reads and what is defined on it. Part one does not define airworthy, the definition lies within the AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATE. Once everybody reads theirs, and researches what it says (it'll take you many weeks of reading the FAR's :-) please come back to this thread and make comments. TSO's, PMA's and Field approvals are to alleviate you from liability, that's all, and those that sign them off as approved, charge you dearly (again liability). So ask yourself, do you want the liability or shall the mfg, installer, etc. have that luxury? Simple! BTW: Any comfiguration other than the original configuration with unapproved parts, hardware, methods, etc creates an un-airworthy aircraft (normal/utility category. Those of you that are IA's know this, please do not skirt the uninformed. Just read the regs!

Posted by: Joeseph Gawlikowski: JoesPiper | September 2, 2010 2:16 PM    Report this comment

Joe, I am having a bit of difficulty following your logic. Are you saying that any changes from the original configuration (or OEM equipment list) constitutes a major alteration? Some FAA FSDOs have been promoting that concept for years, primarily through their PAIs. That reasoning has also been widely discredited within Washington's FAA circles, notably through the offices of the late Bill O'Brien. Several manufacturers have also been known to issue new, revised, equipment lists after overhauling their aircraft. Under your definition, one of those lists HAS to be wrong. Original equipment lists are only a convenience for the manufacturer and no longer have the legal standing they once did under the CARs. If they did, we'd still be flying around with NARCO coffeegrinders in our Cessna 170s. Legal liability has very little to do with this question. We all take on liability when we sign maintenance entries.

A minor alteration still does not require a 337, STC or field approval. In fact, the FSDO will specifically NOT accept any liability when they approve alterations.

Avionics inspectors who say otherwise have a vested interest in doing so: it's called job security. That does not conform to official FAA policy guidance. No amount of bombastic rhetoric changes that fact. As an IA, I will not produce a 337 just because a field inspector tells me "When in doubt, fill one out" when a log entry is more appropriate.

Posted by: Howard Fuller | September 2, 2010 3:24 PM    Report this comment

While researching this I encountered something unusual when comparing the Part 23 to the Part 27 requirements. In Part 23.1383 states taxi and landing lights must be designed and installed so that: (a) No dangerous glare is visible to the pilots. (b) The pilot is not seriously affected by halation. (c) It provides enough light for night operatons. It does not cause a fire hazard in any configuration.

Now, here is the odd bit: Part 27 (Rotorcraft) states in 27.1383 (a) Each required landing or hovering light must be APPROVED. (emphasis added)

Part 1 'Definitions and Abbreviations' defines 'approved' generally as 'FAA Approved.' But since the lights are not TSO'd, PMA'd, listed in the TCD for aircraft I have a hard time determining what and how the lights were/are approved. So, I contacted the Fort Worth FSDO to ask for clarification....

How are the lamps approved? I asked the question a few different ways and never received a satisfactory answer to what constitutes the approval basis of the lights.

I have a number of company owned helicopters I would like to install these on. I would be happy to provide comparative specifications for the new PAR-36 LED lamps (which I have) and have our repair station deem the alteration as 'minor.' However, this 'approved' bit has me concerned.

Anyone have any insight?

Posted by: Paul Karren | October 19, 2010 6:01 PM    Report this comment

If a component is not listed in the approved parts manual from that manufacturer, or if it is not TSO'd, PMA'd, 337'd (field approved, or otherwise, then technically that component is not approved for that aircraft because that is what the aircraft was certified with at that time of FAA approval (Part 91 Normal or Utility aircraft).

Here's a good one. A lot of aircraft are approved for the basic 4509 bulbs, but a lot of pilots install the 4509Q (quartz) that has a narrower beam and somewhat brighter. Technically, if one followed the book by the letter, the 4509Q would be illegal because it is not listed in th eparts manua. However, the 4509Q is looked upon as an upgrade and thus overlooked. LED landing lights cannot be overlooked as they are a completely different configuration even though they work just as well or maybe even better! One other note, if the 4509's become unavailable in the future (which they will not), LED lights could be installed as a minor alteration if the aircraft is older than 1980 as per AC43.18. Its all in the wording. What you do to your aircraft after Annual is your business, Thats why I take pictures!

Posted by: Joeseph Gawlikowski: JoesPiper | October 19, 2010 6:24 PM    Report this comment

The FAA is the biggest detriment to aviation safety and the biggest impediment to the advancement of General Aviation that exists. Before the FAA and its draconian anti-aviation advancement agenda we were the most advanced, innovative aviation country in the world. Now look at us. Sickening.

Posted by: Ed Mallory | April 25, 2014 11:13 AM    Report this comment

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