A Review of the Industry Consensus Standards Method
In the aviation world, the new light sport aircraft category is all the rage, with interest at aviation trade shows climbing off the charts. New aircraft certified using ASTM International industry consensus standards recently reached model number 50, with all approvals coming in less than two years, a record in aviation history worldwide.
Doing things correctly and quickly is not uncommon in the world of light sport aircraft. This is a highly entrepreneurial activity populated by get-it-done businessmen and women who are highly motivated to get their nascent industry off the ground – literally.
Welcome to Committee F37
ASTM International’s Committee F37 on Light Sport Aircraft is just five years old, yet it has produced, from scratch, specifications for design, performance, quality acceptance tests and safety monitoring for LSA. ASTM standards guide the preparation of pilot operating handbooks, maintenance manuals, and a system of service bulletins to advise consumers of maintenance needed to keep their aircraft in good operating condition.
If Committee F37 only had to write these standards for conventional aircraft, the task would be significant; to accomplish it in a timely fashion would be a worthy achievement. But F37 is composed of volunteer stakeholders from a wide variety of aircraft beyond fixed-wing airplanes, and it has written standards in sometimes record time for weight shift control aircraft, powered parachutes, gliders, lighter-than-air vehicles and rotary-wing gyros. Additional standards have been written for engines, propellers, airports, kit building of aircraft, night operations, emergency parachutes and more.
My personal duty among these volunteers began when I chaired the ballistic parachute task group. In 2003, I accepted an award on behalf of the group for its preparation of a new, approved standard in six months. In contrast, winning Federal Aviation Administration approval for a parachute to be fitted to the government-certified Cessna 150 (an aircraft very similar to LSA of today) took 10 years and cost one company more than $2 million. I repeat: Committee F37 did it in six months with volunteers. No wonder an award was given for such efficiency. I had a great team, dedicated to the task, using industry knowledge exactly as FAA had intended.
Our work on an emergency parachute standard may be one of the most quickly written ASTM standards, but it is hardly the only proof of efficiency among F37’s participants.
Speed and Technology
Subcommittee F37.40 on Weight Shift collected the input and insights from participants in Australia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries for its standards development. These nations are home to the most experienced builders of such aircraft. Gaining their cooperation was essential. But traveling to North America to twice-yearly meetings wasn’t in the schedule or budget of numerous subcommittee members.
To incorporate ideas and advice from those international experts, the subcommittee chairman, Scott Toland, made extensive use of ASTM’s Internet capabilities to conduct online virtual meetings. While this subcommittee took a little longer than some to reach consensus, their patient tenacity was rewarded with a completed standard. The subcommittee received two awards from Committee F37 in recognition of their persistence and use of technology.
If F37 had to only craft standards for conventional aircraft, standard writers could follow rules established for government-certified aircraft. Indeed those earlier rules provided a basis for many of F37’s standards. But what do you do when the aircraft you are standardizing are anything but conventional?
Another of F37’s subcommittees developed standards for powered parachutes. These are carriages with landing gear, engines, instruments, and seating for one or two people. They are carried aloft by parachute canopies not much different than those used by modern skydivers.
The chair of Subcommittee F37.30 on Powered Parachute, James Stephenson, led another hardworking group of volunteers and, as with many F37 activities, gained a balloted standard in a remarkably short time thanks to the dedication of subcommittee members.
Mainstream Acceptance of F37’s Work
In the aviation world, Cessna Aircraft is the world’s largest builder of business jets – over 300 of them per year – and they have also delivered tens of thousands of their iconic high-wing propeller designs. All these airplanes have met stringent FAA certification rules. It would be accurate to say Cessna hasmastered Federal Aviation Regulation Part 23, the rule for factory-manufactured aircraft in the United States. And when Cessna unveiled their proposed entry to the LSA fleet, it was built to meet ASTM International standards.
Cessna’s acceptance of ASTM standards is one proof of the good work done by a cadre of volunteers. Another is the growing acceptance from around the world.
In the “Part 23” world Cessna knows so well, even a respected company must go country-to-country, obtaining local certification for their aircraft. Despite gaining FAA approval at the expense of millions of dollars per design, Cessna still must demonstrate that their models meet the rules of other countries, piling on additional millions of cost.
Happily, several countries have already committed to using sport pilot and LSA rules, effectively enlarging the market where airplanes meeting ASTM International standards can be sold.
Under FAA rules for LSA producers, a manufacturer fills out the appropriate application forms and then simply declares that the aircraft meets ASTM standards. When an LSA arrives in the United States, a designated airworthiness representative examines the aircraft in an inspection that obviates the need for the factory to qualify for an FAA production certificate (another task that can cost millions of dollars). Manufacturers are required to conduct a biennial internal audit under ASTM standards. But despite audits and the good work of a legion of airworthiness representatives, how does a consumer know a given aircraft truly meets the ASTM International standards?
Today, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association is conducting voluntary third party audits for which the builder pays (dramatically less than similar reviews by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), FAA, or the European Aviation Safety Agency). After a document review, an on-site process, quality control inspection, and a study of engineering test data, a successfully audited supplier can apply a numbered LAMA decal to each of its aircraft. Leaders of LAMA have long been associated with F37.
Upon hearing of this voluntary audit program, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and her top lieutenants reacted warmly, saying that such industry-led efforts combined well with ASTM International standard writing to achieve goals the administration envisioned when they first created the sport pilot/light sport aircraft rule.
Volunteers Around the World
As with most ASTM International committees, Committee F37 meets twice a year, and in June 2007 it will gather in Prague, Czech Republic. Since many LSA suppliers are based in Eastern Europe, meeting closer to them is intended to enfranchise current European participants and encourage new committee members.
With a growing total membership currently numbering over 230, Committee F37 maintains careful jurisdiction over more than 24 standards which are Published in ASTM Standardization NewsVolume 15.11 of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards. F37 has seven technical subcommittees that create and maintain these standards.
It is hard to imagine in the light sport aircraft community how the thousands of hours of work building a set of industry consensus standards could have occurred without the volunteer members of Committee F37. As a new industry composed heavily of startups, budgets are lean and time is short. Thanks are due to all those who gave of their time and talents. We welcome new volunteers. All you have to do is join ASTM International and join the LSA party.