A version of this article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of our free newsletter, to subscribe click here

We have had some good feedback on our Aerial Urban Mobility Ranking article. But there has been some misunderstanding of the nature of the scoring system.

There are several gates you have to pass through in order to achieve financial success (give a return on the investment). The most critical of these is the legal or regulatory aspect.

I was recently in a meeting with the representatives of a very, very large company who are looking at some level of involvement in aerospace vehicle development (I have to be careful about what I say and keep it as vague as I can)

They were extolling the virtues of the new part 23 regulations and the fact that they were performance based regulations made them much better than the previous type of regulations.

That may be true in a philosophical sense.

These were very bright people who wield great power rooted in the sense that they can direct investment values in the range of high orders of magnitude of dollars.

None of them have been involved in a part 23 certification project and have no direct experience of the process of achieving a finding of compliance from the FAA, let alone a complete type certification program.

I have heard the same opinion from other people with a predominantly software based background.

This lack of understanding of the psychology of the FAA and what is at stake for the individual at the FAA who awards a finding of compliance or a type certificate will prove a terminal problem for many of the projects we included in the study.

To reiterate – this is not because of a lack of intelligence, enthusiasm or technical ingenuity. It is a lack of direct experience.

If I had to distill it down to a single factor, it is the management of the perception of risk in the mind of the regulator.

The FAA is made up of people. Each of those people have their own level of acceptable professional risk. You can see this in the tendency to push off regulatory decision making onto the applicant. This is evident in the  encouragement of Design Approval Organizations which has led to the Boeing 737 Max issue.

The FAA have developed a hands-off policy over the last decade or two. Why should FAA people take personal/professional risks by involvement in the minutiae of a project, when they can push that responsibility off onto the applicant?

I think we have the answer to that now. Effective oversight requires involvement in the details of the approval process, not just an adjudication at a surface level that the correct process has been followed.

So how does this relate to the new part 23 regulations and the blue sky thinking of our friends with a software background?

We have a new set of regulations which, in theory, gives the applicant more leeway in selecting a wider range of means of compliance and we have the context of the failure of the oversight system for the 737 Max.

What would your assessment be regarding the current acceptable level of professional risk that an FAA representative will tolerate when agreeing to a compliance program or making/approving a finding of compliance with these new regulations in a post 737 Max world?

Bear in mind that as far as I am aware, no program has yet received type certification using the new part 23 regulations. Supplemental type certificates are done under the original type certificate of the aircraft. No STC’s have received approval under the new part 23 type regulations.

The only new program I am involved with, which is active in type 23 certification under the new regulations, has been allowed to use the old part 23 regulations as an acceptable means of compliance.

Has there ever been a finding of compliance under the new part 23 regulations?

So – if you are an Aerial Urban Mobility Aircraft program with a clever unique design relying on technologies not currently in use on any aircraft, and you are looking to use (at least in part) the new type 23 regulations for your type certification program, you need to carry out an urgent risk review of your program.

It is very easy to get into the type certification process. It is very difficult to complete. If you do not have a very clear route to get through certification the only way you will leave it is by going out of business.

This may appear pessimistic. It is true.

A high level review of the range of Aerial Urban Mobility projects shows admirable, ingenious and likely terminal levels of innovation.

This is the nature of the risk assessment in the study we have completed.

No need to take my word for it – just wait for 10 years and we can find out how risk averse national and trans-national aircraft certification agencies really are.