Regulation as a Field Leveler

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In my video blog earlier this week, I touched on the idea that, in Europe at least, regulation doesn't seem to put much of a throttle on innovation and new product introduction. In merely making the observation, I wasn't implying that more regulation is better than less because I am, at heart, an anarchist. If I were King, Part 23 would fit on an index card if it existed at all. It's good that the adults push back against this kind of thinking so we arrive at a sane median.

But even within the manufacturing community, I encounter some odd attitudes toward regulation. At a press event recently, I casually asked the CEO of an LSA manufacturer what he thought would increase sales. "Enforce the rules," he said without hesitation. That caught me by surprise, but further probing revealed that he thought self-compliance in LSA is lax at best and he eventually got around to a favorite punching bag: CubCrafters and specifically the CarbonCubSS. LSA builders frequently bend my ear on this because they want me to accept that the CarbonCubSS isn't technically an LSA or, if it is, it's not built in the true spirit of LSAs, whatever that is.

The problem is that the CarbonCub has a juiced up 180-HP engine, takes off in less than its own length and climbs like a bottle rocket. Coincidentally, this is just the sort of thing people want to buy because the CarbonCub is also the best selling LSA behind the Skycatcher. CubCrafters has always occupied the top floor of the price strata, it understands that market and that's where the CarbonCub lives, with invoice prices in the $170,000 range. The ASTM standard doesn't limit engine horsepower although it does limit speed to 120 knots indicated. For the slicker LSAs, even some with 100-HP Rotax engines, this is the most widely ignored limitation in aviation. Referring to my anarchist guidebook, I frankly, don't care. Adherence to that rule is up to the pilot…or not. To me, it's irrational to dirty up the airframe to meet what is, in the end, an arbitrary standard. By my lights, the CarbonCubSS is an LSA and a fun one at that.

That's not to say there isn't a little cheatin' going on among LSA makers. Some of them take a…ummm, liberal view of what positive stability means and a check of the empty weight might reveal some creative interpretation of scale reading. If it's rampant—which I don't think it is—I doubt if it threatens the industry.

But not everyone agrees with my sanguine view. A couple of years ago, we got wind of a proposal circulating in the FAA to turn the certification of all aircraft up to 6000 pounds over to the ASTM process. This could save manufacturers hundreds of thousands in cert costs, so I shopped the idea among a few airframe makers, who, surprisingly, thought it a bad idea. Why? Because for all its frustration, the FAA's enforcement of FAR Part 23 provides kind of a filter and a level playing field. Without it, argue some, the industry could run amuck, post-crash lawsuits would become the regulatory mechanism and the industry would be lawyered out of existence. Alan Klapmeier told me he thinks there's enough non-compliance in LSA manufacturing to make him believe the same thing could happen if self-certification approval is extended.

He has a point. On the other hand, I sometimes think the relationship manufacturers develop with the FAA is a sort of institutional Stockholm Syndrome. They get a perverse comfort in jumping through what are sometimes unreasonable certification hoops because they know a competitor is suffering just as much. It gives an odd twist to competition, but it's what the industry has come to expect. And as we all know, no one wants surprises.

Comments (69)

The critical issue is not so much the rules themselves, but whether they are evenly enforced to create a level playing field. Without that almost any field of endeavor fails as people see a lack of fairness as the over-riding issue, which makes factors such as return-on-investment unpredictable.

Posted by: Adam Hunt | May 3, 2012 7:37 AM    Report this comment

Large incumbents in any industry often support regulation of their industry, usually of two kinds: very high barriers to entry (which limit new competition or even make it impossible); and recurring moderately large fixed charges (which kill smaller competitors but are affordable for the larger ones). It's hardly a surprise that manufacturers who have already met the Part 23 regulations would be very unhappy about new entrants being able to get in more easily now.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | May 3, 2012 7:48 AM    Report this comment

The "level playing field" issue is tricky. In a sense, anyone is free to do what, for example, CubCrafters has done. The problem, for their customers, is that if FAA subsequently decides their product doesn't comply with the LSA rules, the customers will own expensive lawn art.

The "lawn art problem" is even more true of safety factors. I can think of two types of LSA that have acquired reputations for coming apart in flight (there seems to be no suggestion that either manufacturer cut any corners), and those types are now difficult to resell at any price.

Buyers need to be more aware of the need for assured quality; perhaps people are not yet fully realizing that the FAA isn't doing that in LSA. Still, we can be confident that major manufacturers are not knowingly going to sell junk, and with established models there is fleet experience to look at.

For new entrants, certification by someone like LAMA seems like a good idea, but has not been embraced - perhaps because customers haven't demanded it (yet).

I do think we should discard FAA re-involvement as undesirable under almost any circumstances. The history of Part 23 shows that once FAA's nose is in the tent, bureaucratic imperatives pull in the whole elephant and kill the industry. Other approaches have their challenges, but it's time to work on addressing those rather than go back to a system we already know doesn't work.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | May 3, 2012 8:09 AM    Report this comment

P.S. A reputation for "coming apart in flight" develops after less than a handful of incidents - it's not like the sky is raining LSAs.

Importantly, in one of those types, ALL the incidents were fatal. In the other, NONE were. The difference? Ballistic chutes. And yet the trend is AWAY from fitting them (only 1 low-wing LSA seems to come with them as standard now, and it sells few units). The 600kg limit seems to be the reason: it should be modified to allow extra weight for ballistic chutes, as it already does for floats.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | May 3, 2012 8:13 AM    Report this comment

The issue absolutely IS the rules themselves. Equating any give set of rules with "a level playing field" is intellectual nonsense. ANY set of rules that is enforced consistently will result in equality of treatment – if not always of outcomes – under those rules.

The very first thing we need to do is abandon classification of aircraft by the standard of gross weight. If human safety is the issue, then quantity-of-occupants is the defensible standard. Personal airplanes should be limited to 8 occupants or fewer. This is the largest “dinner party of couples” that can be claimed to be “personal use.” Need to lift more people than that? Fine – you’ve graduated to Professional airplanes: 9-to-19 seats, and a Commercial/Instrument ticket and Medical required. Need to haul even more people? You’ve entered the Transportation business: 20 seats or more, and an ATP with Medical. (None of this makes any effort to tinker with Parts 91, 135, 121, 125, etc. – it’s just about the vehicles and their PICs.)

Would I be willing to limit application of these standards exclusively to aircraft certified after some given date? I would, because there’s no progress to be had from re-classifying CAR-3-like aircraft to compete with modern creations.

The whole LSA thing has become entangled with the movement to obsolete the Medical for non-professional operations. Doing away with weight-based classifications would bring needed clarity to these issues.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | May 3, 2012 8:19 AM    Report this comment

How about if we could get tort guidance and new rules in one package? Protection from joint and several along with necessity to show proximate cause could go a long way. If the design is approved, and it works as designed then the operator becomes the responsible party? If there is no game playing involved, Cessna shouldn't pay millions due to some after market instrument failure. (game playing being legal separation covering a financial relationship). That sort of thing would be nirvana. If GAMA and AOPA and other alphabets agree, why would congress object?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 3, 2012 8:45 AM    Report this comment

It is not all roses in Europe, in France attempts to restart Robin production have spluttered and failed -- hopefully the latest effort will be a success. I suspect that Diamond has the good fortune and good management to enable it to get local banks to support it because it has the support of local politicians and local politicians to support it because it has the support of the local banks. Coupled with a highly educated workforce in Austria needing jobs, it is a happy combination. Long may it last.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | May 3, 2012 9:23 AM    Report this comment

For the same reason doctors would want govt to enforce licensing and at the end of the day consumers do too. I don't want some nut that still believes in blood letting tinkering with me.

The faa already delegates the bulk of reg meeting to manufacturers and has had simplified rules including vla and primary category on the books for decades. It makes little difference, imho because you'd have to go out your way to design a decent airplane that doesn't meet part 23. The parts that might be silly are like adf questions on the written, fodder to gripe about but realistically not driving the cost or difficulty in any significant way.

If I was in charge of anything I would use regs to bargain tort reform. I'd rather have grey beard engineers supervising engineers, pilots for pilots, doctors for doctors etc.

Posted by: B Noel | May 3, 2012 10:04 AM    Report this comment

Design rules are necessary to allow all builders to benefit from industry experience. Certification is necessary to reduce the variability of human nature. Some builders (Cessna and Van's come to mind) will build to a set of rules exactly, and campaign to change rules if they are inappropriate. Other builders will ignore, either through ignorance or intention, rules percieved to be unimportant; unless there is a cop standing nearby with a nightstick. It is in the buyers best interest to have the builders aligned to a common body of knowledge. And no, the LSA 120kt airspeed limit and weight limit was not arbitrary; it was hashed out by a rather large committee. The LSA builders that willingly violate those limits have probably shortchanged other areas of the design also; it is an indication of the type of builder they are.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | May 3, 2012 12:19 PM    Report this comment

"And no, the LSA 120kt airspeed limit and weight limit was not arbitrary; it was hashed out by a rather large committee. "

Excuse me, but just because a committee did it, doesn't mean it's either right or not arbitrary. The old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee aptly illuminates the fact that human nature pushes committees not toward brilliance, but to the least objectionable outcome.

All kinds of things designed by committee reflect this lowest common denominator result.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2012 1:05 PM    Report this comment

"Excuse me" Are these the same committees we are waiting on to give us 100UL?

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | May 3, 2012 1:18 PM    Report this comment

Stephen, If a manufacturer oversteps the speed limit, which is arbitrary absent any explanation no matter how big the committee, and you take that as a sign of irresponsibility, couldn't someone look at the "letter of the law" guys and judge them as likely to be CYA artists, or legal over ethical types?

Truly, a lot of LSAs were built to other goals and then altered to fit the category. They were then fit with props or other fixes to slow them which potentially detracts from safety.

I would judge a manufacturer more carefully than just dismissing them for having a slick design. If we are going to throw stones, we can even throw them at Cessna. The 172 may have one of the best long term records, but if they couldn't make a better plane than a 50 year old design, do we really want to compliment their hard work to keep us safe?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 3, 2012 1:23 PM    Report this comment

I don't have atsm stds here but they're basically stripped part 23. The problem with nudge nudge wink wink max continuous power is most all handling requirements are exempt at the "takeoff" power since you supposedly don't stay there long, similarly structural, gust and flutter margins are based off the continuous power speeds not cruising at "takeoff" power.

Could be they know all that and internally adjust their design appropriately. Could also be they have no clue. And if they don't I'd be torqued if I was selling a competing brand because they've devalued the meaning of "meets atsm standard" to customers. Just like a doctor would be po'd if a quack represented himself as an md, as would a patient. If you didn't want to meet reg intent for whatever reason, sell an experimental open kimono. Everyone knows where you stand and can make their own decision what's important to them.

Posted by: B Noel | May 3, 2012 1:58 PM    Report this comment

"Excuse me" Are these the same committees we are waiting on to give us 100UL"


Different committees, but still committees.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2012 2:07 PM    Report this comment

The speed limit was not arbitrary. There was much discussion and some competing ideas included a wing loading limit. I personally would have favored that as it is very easy to measure and enforce but still gives great latitude for advanced designs. The point is that builders you may want to buy from are the ones that accept and build to the specs, but work to change the specs if they are bad. The builders that "wink" when discussing their design have probably also "winked" at a number of other features that are not so easy to see. This follows a trend in many other areas of human nature; it's why we don't tolerate too many DWI's for pilots.

As far a Cessna's 50 year old design: I know some violin designs that date much further than that, but no one is complaining.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | May 3, 2012 2:17 PM    Report this comment

Sorry Stephen, but haven't moved the ball. Using your own sort of logic, are we to believe the reasons for a speed limit were bad because you simply wink and say there are some?

Without any reasons for the limit you then equate them with pilots having multiple DUIs? What is your agenda? Surely, the wink at the speed limit is reason for questioning methods, not damning the whole outfit as not caring about safety. As I stated, reducing the performance can reduce safety.

Your violin analogy is also misleading and worse than a salesman's wink. I have to ask again about your agenda. What is it?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 3, 2012 2:35 PM    Report this comment

I think that everyone should remember that the CAA/FAA was created to protect the general public. From that mandate, grew all the regulations we have today, including the simple one of prominently displaying the word “EXPERIMENTAL” in some planes.

Every airplane that has a seat that could be occupied by a non-flying member of the general public will never be free from regulatory authority. We can blather here and elsewhere about this or that part of the regulations, but they will always be here, in close to the format that has been around for many years.

If you were POTUS, with some concern for your subjects, what would you change?

Probably nothing, appoint a committee.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 3, 2012 3:00 PM    Report this comment

I still don't see and have not seen the rationale for the speed limit. Just because it was discussed, doesn't mean the underlying concept has any validity at all. I'm not saying it doesn't. I am saying it hasn't been demonstrated that it does.

Ditto the weight limit. Diamond is adamant about this, arguing that both the European and American LSA weight limits are pulled out of thin air and are counter productive to safety because they don't allow enough structure to build a crashworthy airframe.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2012 3:38 PM    Report this comment

Large incumbents in any industry often support regulation of their industry, usually of two kinds: very high barriers to entry (which limit new competition or even make it impossible); and recurring moderately large fixed charges (which kill smaller competitors but are affordable for the larger ones). It's hardly a surprise that manufacturers who have already met the Part 23 regulations would be very unhappy about new entrants being able to get in more easily now.

Regulations only reason for existence is to keep out competition as stated above. Part 23 or Part 25 regulations probably hurt safety more than they help(keeping out new safety features). Competition is good for buyers but bad for sellers, so sellers want regulation even though they complain about it.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | May 3, 2012 4:17 PM    Report this comment

Paul I don't know if it was the particular justification for the speed limit but lsa has very relaxed regulations around flutter vs part 23.

Diamond certified their da20 to jar-vla very light aircraft. Is there another euro lsa category or did something get lost in translation?

Posted by: B Noel | May 3, 2012 5:05 PM    Report this comment

Roy if you believe that you can build or buy an experimental. The choice is up to you which is a good thing, to me.

I don't know how part 25 could much safer without resurrecting people in flight so I'm pretty skeptical of that claim.

Posted by: B Noel | May 3, 2012 5:10 PM    Report this comment

B Noel, I would never fly in an airplane that I built. I know where my abilities are and are not. But I also know that no fed cares as much as I do about the airplane I am flying in. A bad reputation kills a business faster than the FAA ever could.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | May 3, 2012 5:28 PM    Report this comment

I was referring to the European 450 kg ultralight segment. Many of the airplanes sold in the U.S. as LSAs were originally approved under that standard. Remos is one. I think Aerotrek is another. So is Pipistrel.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2012 6:17 PM    Report this comment

One thing no one has explained to me is how or why either enforcement or additional regulation results in higher sales, which is what I originally posited.

Buyers are not saying they aren't buying out of concerns about safety or lack of standards oversight, they are not buying because of lack of value. It turns out the best selling LSAs are also the most expensive, so at the higher price buyers evidently find more value.

So how is that cracking the regulatory whip would enhance sales, which was my original question?

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 3, 2012 6:23 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I think your CEO thinks his sales would go up if the rules were enforced. I don't think many aviation execs can think outside the market share box. As evidence, when was the last time you saw one go after the not yet a pilot market? Cirrus? 10 years ago?

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 3, 2012 8:17 PM    Report this comment

Two thoughts. First, a lot of FAA rules make sense. Hemispheric altitude rule comes to mind. They make so much sense, it's hard to imagine even an anarchist being opposed ;-).

On the other hand, there are frequently draft rules (and a few on the books) which call up the adult in all of us to squash. Some of these are well intentioned (or not) bureaucrats feeling the need to structure their lives by structuring everyone else. Others come from industry for almost the same reason. The latter concerns me not because of Stockholm Syndrome but because industry becomes their own worst enemy, subscribing to "non-requirements" serving their own purposes, but not ours.

I guess I'm with you in opposition to regs not of the common sense, good neighbor variety. I don't like a surprise stall / spin characteristic any more than the next guy (common sense) but I'm not concerned if a manufacturer goes out of business because the legal system "legitimately" determines they built an unsafe aircraft (yeah, I know, lawyers, but Paul may be saving that for another day ;-). I would be perfectly satisfied if we had one or more aviation "Consumer Reports" unaffiliated with FAA or any govt doing the testing in accordance with common sense, generally accepted aviation guidelines. They would be accountable without having the govt's pre-disposition to seemingly always seeing more pages of intrusive intervention as the answer to achieving goodness as they define it.

Posted by: Daniel Dedona | May 4, 2012 6:17 AM    Report this comment

As someone pointed out, it's not so much the regulations themselves, which on the cert side generally make sense, but the adjudication of them at the OEM work face.

Small companies have limited resources and they are often forced to jump through the silliest of hoops placed there by some FAA office for no other reason than it can.

Here's an example. One of the companies do fuel certs was required by the FAA only to do testing only on new engines that had never been run on leaded fuel, the argument being that residual deposits would contaminate the tests, the so-called lead memory theory.

This is absurd on its face, for if lead memory existed in a meaningful way, one could simply run an engine once on leaded fuel have the octane-improving benefits forever. Key word here is "meaningful" which sometimes flows from the concept of common sense.

As for the Consumer Reports idea, I agree. We try to that with Aviation Consumer but it is like shoveling sand against the tide. And on the broader issues impacting society in general, the popular press does an even worse job, with the financial press (aka Jim Cramer) missing the sub-prime mortgage scandal as a prime example.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2012 6:59 AM    Report this comment

Paul it's too easy to make an argument sound stupid and arbitrary when you tell both sides, especially something that hinges on nitty gritty technical details. Throw in govt bad and excessive regulation and its an easy sell to a credulous audience. I've met guys that busted checkrides due only to arbitrary and capricious examiners too. Just ask them. Did you get the other side of the story?

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 10:14 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you asked if regulation could increase sales. I think there IS an example of that, probably - but I'm not sure it's relevant to either LSA or any realistically likely Part 23 replacement.

The example I have in mind is hang gliding (there is a similar story more recently in paragliding). Hang gliding developed a deservedly atrocious reputation in the 1970s, when the aircraft often bore no conceivable relation to the word "airworthy". The manufacturers realized that there would be no customers for products perceived to be so dangerous, and that the crashes due to bad manufacturers would frighten away customers from the good manufacturers too. So they created the Hang Glider Manufacturers' Association (HGMA) and instituted a certification procedure. It quickly became almost (but not entirely) impossible to sell a hang glider without HGMA certification (or certification under DHV, which I believe was run by the German government).

The result was a partial (never complete) restoration of faith in hang gliders, and a recovery of the industry that lasted about 2 decades, before the advent of paragliders and the general decline in aviation put it into a slow decline again.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | May 4, 2012 1:03 PM    Report this comment

I should note that the few hang gliders sold without HGMA/DHV certification in the past few years were not sold by "cowboy" bad actors, but by reputable manufacturers selling special-purpose aircraft. For example, the Swift ultralight sailplane did not meet HGMA requirements, I believe, because the specifications simply didn't apply; and the Wills Wing Condor was intended to be an oversized lightweight glider for use in training on low sand dunes, and carried a prominent placard warning against any other type of operation.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | May 4, 2012 1:11 PM    Report this comment

"Did you get the other side of the story?"

Well, I saw all the technical paper, if that's what you mean. I'm not an engineer, but I'm technically astute enough to sniff BS when I see it. And it was.

The operative word, Noel, is "meaningful." Here's an another example and I need to disguise it a little because it was off the record. An OEM was testing a slight mod that normally was fleshed out in 300 datapoints and had been for years. All of sudden, the FAA wanted 500 datapoints. Another day or two of flight test.

Why? No reason given, just because. Well, if 500 is good, why not a 1000? And so on. The line has to be drawn so that proposed effort produces meaningful results, not just make work.

The point being made above is that it's not one FAA, but a bunch of little FAAs and the FAA you're dealing with is the engineer or inspector who is across from you at the moment.

Having said this, I have been covering various cert projects for 20 years and my impression is that the vast majority of companies would say the FAA gets it mostly right with professional and appropriate requirements, But there are enough instances of that not happening to substantially frustrate and cost companies money.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2012 1:28 PM    Report this comment

As I said, I'm not sure there's a perception that LSAs are unsafe to the extent that it's depressing sales. Even if it were, what additional regulation would correct that?

And of course, the LSA this CEO was talking about--and he's not alone in saying this--is a best seller. I just found it bizarre that a company hits a sweet spot with product and a competitor wants to compete not with a better product, but a regulatory cudgel. (Recall that the Wrights spent their lives suing Glenn Curtis, so the precedent came early.)

But then this is where what I consider to be my innate common sense leaves me unarmed to operate in the real world.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2012 1:33 PM    Report this comment

"The point being made above is that it's not one FAA, but a bunch of little FAAs and the FAA you're dealing with is the engineer or inspector who is across from you at the moment."

Which is a huge problem. The reason you ask for 500 instead of 300 is because you think it will cover your butt, or make get you promoted.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 4, 2012 2:22 PM    Report this comment

I don't know how full certification is handled, but years ago when I was doing STC applications we knew to avoid some FAA Regional Offices and locate our work where FAA officials were reasonable.

The north-west and south-central (DFW environs) were the best to work with. I never did any work through SoCal even though I was based there. It was suggested avoid it at any cost. So much so, that we would hire space and people to get the jobs done in the other regions. I have a lot of time commuting in a Mooney Super 21 ;-)

Posted by: Edd Weninger | May 4, 2012 3:07 PM    Report this comment

Paul, how to comply is negotiated. There might have been far easier ways to satisfy lead deposit concerns, and the faa doesn't specify the number of datapoints. mfg has substantial control over that. Besides the datapoints for faa is a seriously misleading proxy for effort, because that process is very similar to checkride for pilots. If the examiner takes 1.5 hr to conduct a checkride did the cost to get a pilots license cost increase 50% relative to a past examiner that only took 1 hr? Erm no. Cost is 95% + design and development. Anyone that tells you otherwise is full of blowing snow.

The problem with some projects is they try to save money by not hiring experienced, knowledgeable folks. Or by not listening to them. That doesn't work in any industry. It's an extra later of dumb in a regulated one because the level of oversight depends on selling your trustworthiness. The faa tends to be the go to scapegoat when dreams run aground on reality. Doesn't mean they or their regs were the root cause.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 3:28 PM    Report this comment

Mr. Noel, By experienced do you mean in their field or in dealing with the bureaucracy? I doubt you get much complaint when the FAA says x will cause a problem in condition y and the manufacturer sees their point. OTOH, you get different reactions when work stops over process.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 4, 2012 4:00 PM    Report this comment

"The faa tends to be the go to scapegoat when dreams run aground on reality. Doesn't mean they or their regs were the root cause."

Do you work for the FAA, by the way? Or have you? Just curious, given the nature of that defense.

At Aero, I heard Greg Bowles of GAMA give a short but good presentation on the Part 23 ARC that's underway. GAMA thinks that streamlining and standardizing Part 23 cert requirements can cut as much as 50 percent from cert costs and reduce the price of aircraft by nearly as much.

That is the industry perspective and even if the reduction in cost is only 30 percent, it shows significant inefficiency in the system which everyone I talk to in the industry thinks is there.

I guess they are all blowing snow. I'll let them know that the next time I do a round of interviews.

Meanwhile, here is a recorded podcast with Greg:

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2012 4:03 PM    Report this comment

I would strongly urge everyone here who's interested in this topic to listen to this podcast. It could foretell a sea change.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 4, 2012 4:11 PM    Report this comment

In their technical field, and in bringing a product to market. The technical types might not complain. But bean counters do. People journalists get unfettered access to are mgmt types. It gets worse up the chain because technical types will duck and cover in the regs if mgmt turns the screws enough. Small companies tend to either not hire experienced people at all, or bring them in only to certify it only after the design is "finalized". Neither works very well.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 4:38 PM    Report this comment

Although I guess it's hard to be an expert in the field without understanding the bureaucracy. That's sort of equivalent to finding an expert cfi that doesn't know what you need to do to take a checkride.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 5:15 PM    Report this comment

Err, no, only in our over regulated world is government interface experience necessary to be an experienced engineer. Reality is that few people are available world wide with either experience, but there are plenty of former government workers looking for their pot of gold having never helped build a damn thing outside of a bureacratic fiefdom.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 4, 2012 5:40 PM    Report this comment

Eric, I meant the world as it actually exists.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 6:46 PM    Report this comment

Paul I don't work for the faa, never have. I'd use an analogy then give up on tiny box typing. The "certification cost" of getting a pilots license could be argued to be the cost of renting the plane + examiner and written fee. And throw in the govt paper pushing cost too.

Or it could be argued as the entire all-in cost of training. Since without the government you could self declare yourself a pilot as you walked up to a plane for the first time. (This is equivalent to Mr. Bowles "certification cost", I'm quite sure)

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 6:48 PM    Report this comment

So which is the right assessment? Depends on your perspective I suppose. If you were king of the world how much training time could you squeeze out of todays world by simplifying and streamline a ppl syllabus? I expect a safer pilot with more real world skills (utility), as well. Could you slash training time in half?

I'm not in love with govt oversite per se. But this road has been traveled. The primary category failed, vla never caught on, lsa doesn't seem to dramatically reduce costs, you've written that yourself as have others.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 6:49 PM    Report this comment

At the same time while the unregulated world already exists and works great for some people, it's also inherently self limiting in some respects. It's like motorcyles. The industry needs to sell minivans too. For those, the thumbs up by independent experts has significant value, especially in disassociating from bad actors.

So it's just my opinion the reg burden is not that great over and above the basic development and bring to market cost, which you can't make disappear. And I'd much rather have regulations, even tougher regulations (for the regulated world) in a bargin for tort relief.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 6:49 PM    Report this comment

Because the aviation world is small and needs to adopt products that were/are designed for other markets. An oem can take on the financial burden to prove to the gov't it's safe. However at least so far as I understand, there is no legal arrangement whatsoever where the oem can firewall their supplier from legal liability. So no sane deep pocket company is going to enter a small market that the jury pool knows little about except it's dangerous. That's my take anyway.

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 6:51 PM    Report this comment

Above should say

"The "certification cost" of getting a pilots license could be argued to be the cost of renting the plane *for the checkride* + examiner and written fee. And throw in the govt paper pushing cost too."

Posted by: B Noel | May 4, 2012 6:57 PM    Report this comment

You are apparently missing my point for making a distinction. If experience working with the FAA is required to build an airplane, then the FAA is adding unnecessary costs over and above necessity. Where would we be today if the cure for polio failed because the FDA refused approval based on process?

Surely, we shouldn't trust a drug made by people who didn't follow the process? Or, surely we should expect regulators to be a mission oriented Government service rather than a bureacratic toll booth?

I can live in the real world and yet refuse to believe fiction is fact just because the foolish, the powerful, or the majority make it practical to go along. Right is right no matter how impractical. It's one thing to act in a way that is pragmatic, but denying what's right will bite you in the butt eventually.

Posted by: Eric Warren | May 4, 2012 9:15 PM    Report this comment

FAA should enforce the rules; I don't think anyone would really argue about that. The agency is obliged to enforce existing regulations because the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 says so.

If we feel that the regulations are like a millstone around our necks and hurt or stop our ability to prosper, then we should change them.

However, to say that regulations should be used as a field-leveler in terms of free market competition, I couldn't disagree more. Let's look at the Wright Amendment that has been in place at Dallas Love Field. That amendment was specifically put in place because American Airlines did not want direct competition from Southwest Airlines. Not only was it wrong to do, but it also didn't work, as Southwest Airlines has been very successful. Also, to use regulators as a way to level the playing field is also like implementing tariffs to protect jobs. Tariff's lead to higher prices of products, as well as bad foreign relations. This is what helped lead us into the great depression. Pres. Hoover put in place high tariffs to protect jobs, but it basically stopped our exports. We went from roughly 3-4 percent unemployment to over 8 percent unemployment in one year; in part because of the tariffs put in place. I think it's totally wrong to use government as a way to artificially make companies more competitive. This is not in keeping with free markets. Competition is good for us, the consumer. We get better products, and more value for our money.

Posted by: Albert Dewey | May 5, 2012 6:00 AM    Report this comment

Where certification is an objective, design/development has become completely intertwined with the cert process. You simply MUST get the agency “on board” with your project from the start. Notwithstanding the Rules, a lot of this is a “confidence game.” Generally, I don’t have a problem with that – in principle.

One way in which the Road of Best Intentions becomes a (questionably?) costly state-of-the-art Highway, is when the process starts to resemble one of the aspects that makes American Medicine so frustratingly expensive. That happens whenever the agency “suggests” that the developer of Project C should adopt the wonderful new features and levels-of-performance-and-reliability that were obtained by the developers of the recent Project B – which itself was enlightened by the admirable enhancement brought to the public by the developers of Project A, etc. After all, nothing can be “too safe.” Right?

Thank goodness for the concept of “Equivalent Level of Safety.” But it’s amazing (revealing?) how expert at the confidence game you have to be, to be successful at selling the ELS argument in any given situation. Skeptical? You shoulda heard all of the regulators who told me with sincere straight faces that a mechanical HIS/RMI device just HAD to be much more reliable than “some video game.”

Good rules are a start. Open minds are an improvement. Avoiding a “need” to make each project “better” than the last one? Priceless. (Or at least, cost-constraining.)

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | May 5, 2012 9:26 AM    Report this comment

Sorry. My damned spell-checker changed "HSI/RMI" into "HIS/RMI." How helpful.

Posted by: Thomas Yarsley | May 5, 2012 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Paul ... this diatribe is right on point. Which came first, the industry which needed rules to make things "level" or rules which "level" out an industry.

As an A&P of almost 35 years experience and a pilot and aircraft owner of over 40, I heard one the other day which left me flabbergasted. The Orlando FSDO inspector clowns are making people take AirGizmo mounts out of their radio stack because the GPS becomes "permanent." DUH! It's there so you can snap it in or out but 'they' see the mount as an unauthorized part, I guess? So what has to happen ... AirGizmo has to certify a piece of plastic? Many of the 'little FAA's' who are the point men for their Agency ought to have to live by the very same rules they inflict upon their customers. That they don't see pilots, A&P's and aircraft owners and operators as customers IS the problem. They're pushing the safety aspect of the 1958 FAA Act and totally ignoring the parallel mission statement that they promulgate aviation.

With respect to the Carbon Cub selling while the fly-by-nite designs languish is -- likewise -- telling. If I'm going to sell two great GA airplanes to get maybe 1/3 the cost of a decent LSA, then that LSA had better provide something I want in an airplane. THAT is why the CTLS, Carbon Cub et al sell. They perform.

This whole thing has now reached critical mass.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | May 7, 2012 8:34 AM    Report this comment

So I am unclear on the Carbon Cub. Is the contention that it does not fit within LSA rules? If that is the case than its riding the coat tails of airplanes that can't be as sexy because they follow the rules. That seems a bit corrupt. If, on the other hand the carbon cub complies than...what is all this noise about?

Posted by: robert miller | May 8, 2012 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The complaints are several fold and not just against this airplane. The line of reasoning generally holds that since ASTM manufacturers police themselves, they can cheat and no one will know. Hence the argument for the FAA to crackdown.

In the case of the CarbonCub, it's the only LSA with 180 HP. Competitors argue that this is cheating in spirit if not letter because LSAs are supposed to be low powered. But ASTM has no limits on engine horsepower, just weight.

Further, goes the complaint, that airplane must be faster than 120 knots indicated. I flew it and it just makes 120. It might make more with a different prop. Other LSAs certainly do, and then some.

We've had the discussion about the speed limit, which I see as utterly arbitrary, since I have not seen any supporting data for its rationale. I'm certainly willing to be convinced.

Then again, by what logic would you make a new rule or take the wiggle room out of an existing one merely to knock down a leading competitor? I mean, isn't it a good thing that we sell as many airplanes as possible?

I'm trying to get with the program here, it's just that the program makes no sense.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 8, 2012 4:25 PM    Report this comment

I do believe that there is regulation and there is regulation. We need some rules to live by hence the ten commandments but there are rules that were created to effectively put money into the pockets of the few. I don't believe in the multitude of regulations we have in life because there are already rules in place that cover such eventualities. If you build an aircraft that fails and kills someone you are a murderer. We have effectively taken the responsibility away from the designer/builder and reduced the consequences of there action to that of not complying to regulations and possibly a fine for their crime.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 9, 2012 5:51 AM    Report this comment

During the last war pilots were given 6 hours (if they were lucky) training and then given a very powerful aircraft and told to go and shoot down the enemy no matter the weather conditions. Unfortunately those same pilots after the war became the regulatory authorities we have today. Because of their fears we have been bombarded with regulations of how and why we fly taking away the responsibility of the pilot and making the regulations the prime target the mistakes the pilots make. Yes I do believe we have over regulated the pilots and tries to make money out of extra training they need. When you were training to drive a car you drove in all weather conditions and learnt who to handle the car in those conditions and if your test was on a bad raining day you were expected to pass without complaint. When is a pilot taught to fly in adverse weather conditions only when they want to up their licence such that if (and they do) get caught in bad weather their lack of training usually results in fatality.

Paul I support you thinking regarding less regulations.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 9, 2012 5:52 AM    Report this comment

Sorry it supposed to be "conditions and learnt how to.." Paul I could not find you suggest to visit. Please let us know the proper address many thanks

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 9, 2012 5:57 AM    Report this comment

Paul, the problem with the ASTM standards as applied to LSA is that ASTM (and to an extent LAMA) has no way to enforce compliance with the standards. The argument has been the FAA (or other CAA) are responsible for enforcing compliance with the standards, without much success. However, based on the results of the FAA Assessment a couple years ago and meetings I have attended recently, this could change soon. How would this effect the LSA market? It would (hopefully) weed out the 'dealers' and OEMs that are not complying with the Standards and provide more sales opportunities for the LSA OEMs who are complying with the Standards and building a quality LSA. A couple years ago I had an A&P tell me he thought most of the LSAs flying today were doing so in violation of at least some part of the Standards or FARs. He also commented he had stopped doing annual inspections on LSAs because he couldn't do them legally.

Posted by: Richard Norris | May 9, 2012 6:02 AM    Report this comment

Stipulating that not all LSA manufacturers are in compliance and further stipulating that the coming FAA audit/crackdown on compliance will correct this, my question remains: How does this increase aggregate sales in LSA?

If it has the effect of thinning the herd, then one could reasonably argue that this forces the inevitable shakeout. This might result in more sales for some companies due to fewer competitors. But where's the logic that it increases total sales?

As I've said, we don't see that would-be buyers have a sensitivity to non-compliance with ASTM. We don't hear them saying they're not buying because of safety or other compliance-related issues. We hear them saying they don't see the value in $130,000 two-place airplanes.

Further, we see them buying high-end, tricked out airplanes like the CarbonCub in larger numbers than the smaller, simpler airplanes LSA was supposed to be.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2012 7:01 AM    Report this comment

Bruce, that URL works. But you have paste it in and manually remove the word dot, so it becomes a standard URL.

If that doesn't work, click on the podcast link in the upper right and scroll down to "Certification Made Easy."

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2012 7:04 AM    Report this comment

Thank you Paul that was very interesting. Methinks it may be an issue of too little too late for GA in the west but will hold thumbs that it works as it should

I always question why in an ever increasing population (Approx 4billion when I was born to 7billion now) we have pilot regression. Car and boats seem to have increased to the point where there is now overcrowding in both industries. Is it because of over regulation or something else we are constantly overlooking. I know you once raise the subject but no one could with certainty say what it is though have said this we should keep our eyes on the Chinese and Indians where the future of aviation is about to explode. Look out for real cheap aircraft coming out of those two countries.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | May 9, 2012 7:26 AM    Report this comment

Paul, regarding your comments, if you think back to the original concept (intent) of LSA it was to provide a basic aircraft for people to learn to fly in using their Light Sport Pilot License.

However, about ten years ago the economy took a downswing which resulted in significantly people who might have been interested in a Light sport license and/or LSA having less excess cash to spend on a new toy - especially when the training and operating costs were considered.

We don't hear a lot of 'them' complaining about safety because frankly, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about what an LSA is - for new buyers and some 'old-timers' who think they are really experimentals they can do anything to. A lot of people still don't know what questions to ask when buying an LSA. Also, even after ten years I still hear people say buying any LSA is like buying a used car - Buyer Beware and get it in writing.

Since there hasn't been a huge influx of people taking Light Sport Pilot training or rushing to buy a new LSA, the market has shifted to provide value to those who are buying most of the LSAs - a current GA pilot (typically older) who has just sold his airplane (for whatever reason) and has the cash to buy an LSA which they can fly without a medical.

That said, if the FAA decides to drop the 3rd class physical for even part of the current GA aircraft, it will be interesting to see whether LSA sales to 'older' GA pilots with cash in hand continue.

Posted by: Richard Norris | May 9, 2012 8:00 AM    Report this comment

Richard, markets will always be markets.

The classic example of this is U.S. energy policy vs. European energy policy. U.S. policy attempts to control the supply side by mandating higher mileage standards for cars that people don't want to buy. In Europe, the demand side is the target, with high taxes on fuel convincing buyers to demand more economical vehicles, which is the rule rather than the exception in Europe.

The parallel to me is telling. However well intentioned, the LSA rule did not provide airplanes people want to buy. At least so far. The market adapted, learned that they will buy high-end airplanes that also meet the LSA rule and is moving slowly forward.

To me, this is as it should be. The regulators provide a framework and the market figures it all out. Some competitors--the creative ones--will thrive in this environment and others won't. Some will attempt to compete by throttling the other guy by trying to impose strict interpretations of the rules and some will try to compete by using the courts.

I get the intent of LSA. But in the end, the original notion of it turned out to be mediocrity. It has now evolved into something different. A good thing.

And yes, most of the LSA manufacturers tell me they are toast if the 3rd class goes away. I think some will be. But the smart ones will survive and thrive.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | May 9, 2012 8:43 AM    Report this comment

In private life we make cost/benefit analysis everyday. Is this gadget(parachute on airplane) worth what it costs(weight, complexity, $) We decide if we think it is a good tradeoff and we buy the product that fits us best. We individually make different decsions(one person buys a cirrus, one a cessna, one a mustang, one a motorcycle, etc). Safety is a benefit, but it does have a cost..

The issue with the FAA is that they can't/don't use cost benefit. They see a benefit, so them make it mandatory. This covers their backside, ensures their job, and allows them to tell congress how they are making aviation safer. The unseen part is how many people don't fly because it has gotten too expensive. They are killing an industry by making it safer.

Think about airbags in cars. A great safety idea. Except, they were mandated before they were ready. Plus the (govt mandated)requirements meant that they killed small people. Later they got better and have really become a safety improvement. But how many people are driving old cars without airbags because the airbag requirement drove up the cost above what they could afford. So, a mandated safety feature made them less safe because they couldn't afford to trade up to a safer car.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | May 9, 2012 9:29 AM    Report this comment

If you want 2 turbine engines and 2 pilots for safety reasons, you should have that choice. But if I want someone to build me a kit plane(because I am not a talented builder) I should have that choice as well. Children have someone else to make choices for them, adults can make their own choices.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | May 9, 2012 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Regulation, either more or less, would only make a difference in sales if it's the limiting factor. The market for aircraft is made up of an envelope consisting of factors such as power, speed, economy, cost, carrying capacity, range, takeoff and landing distances, and many other parameters. If the regulations curtail the market in some subset of this envelope, which consists of many more factors than the regulations constrain, then it seems reasonable to hypothesize that a reduction of regulation or its contstraints would result in an increase of sales. It may be at this point that the regulations do not constrain products to a point where significant interference with market demand is caused. Another way to think of this is if one were to have a product line of aircraft from the smallest and least expensive of LSA to the largest of air transport machines, would there be any significant holes in the lineup caused by regulations?

One last comment is that constraints on producers and products addresses only the supply side of the equation. Another question we should ask is if reducing the regulations on pilots and operators would increase demand. I would have to imagine this would be so.

Posted by: FILL CEE | May 9, 2012 9:52 PM    Report this comment

Roy, the FAA is required to do a cost benefit analysis for both proposed and final rulemaking. This is required by Executive Order of the President 12866 and guidelines are set by the Office of Management and Budget. If you read through a either a proposed or final rule you will see reference to cost analysis conducted to satisfy EO 12866. Copies of the analysis for each rule are available on the public docket ( Current FAA guidelines are around $5.8 million dollars per statistical life. My observations of the rulemaking process is the FAA has followed this requirement for the last 20+ years, and further tightened their documentation over the last 10 years.

So if they put $5.8 million per life I wonder if we should be carrying insurance of $5.8 million per occupant.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | May 11, 2012 10:37 PM    Report this comment

Yes, Rob, but each of us weighs the cost and benefits differently. They may do one on paper, but they can't do it for real because they have no skin in the game.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | May 12, 2012 9:38 AM    Report this comment

Understand the perspective but the cost/benefit analysis is posted for comment and adjusted for any received. What I have observed is the major airframers have the resources to weigh in on this but you (or at least I) don't do this for a living so spending my days commenting on this activity is not time I have to spend. So it ends up being what it is.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | May 12, 2012 4:55 PM    Report this comment

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