An LSA Standards Progress Report
Before the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo launched its inaugural event on October 28, 2004, members of the ASTM F37 committee writing the industry consensus standards for Light-Sport Aircraft held their fall meeting at a hotel owned by the Sebring International Raceway.
Approximately 60 industry representatives and FAA officials met over a two-and-a-half day schedule to finish work on standards for design and performance, quality assurance, production and continuing airworthiness. Under the catchall title of the Cross Cutting Committee, attendees also worked on standards for engines, props, emergency parachutes, airparks and noise.
Specifications are finished for airplanes, powered parachutes, weight-shift (trikes), lighter than air and several of the cross cutting groups. Standards are well underway for gyroplanes and gliders. All ASTM standards are living documents that must be reviewed every two years and can be changed as needed to improve their functionality. They stand in lieu of FAA certification standards, though numerous FAA personnel have been an integral to their development.
Many standards have completed balloting to the community and are ready for the FAA to issue its Notice of Availability (NOA). As Larry Werth of the FAA explained, when an NOA is released to the public, it signals acceptance by the agency prior to its implementation under the new Sport Pilot/LSA regulation.
Many questioned whether an all-volunteer group of competing enterprises could or would do a good job of policing itself with the vehicle of consensus-achieved specifications. Nonetheless, the program is working well thanks to the guidance of ASTM and Manager Dan Schultz, along with the committee leadership of EAA Vice President Earl Lawrence and others.
One thornier issue also saw progress. In a program where the same people devising the standards will simply state their compliance with them, some felt strongly that an audit method should be in place. Representatives Paul Fiduccia from the Small Aircraft Manufacturers Association (SAMA), Dick VanGrunsven from Van’s Aircraft, Sebastien Heintz from Zenith Aircraft and several others spoke to this need.
Central to the idea of auditing is the assurance for customers that the manufacturers have followed their own rules for design and quality assurance. Theoretically, the safety valve comes from the fact that third-party auditors can examine hard evidence that the manufacturers have done what they claimed.
Manufacturers who voluntarily choose this independent audit would pay any independent auditing person or organization for such services. Should these costs become excessively high-due to, for example, an escalation in the level of the inspection-they hold the potential to significantly bar market entry by promising new designs. Unfortunately, such costs are impossible to estimate.
“Based on similar reviews of design compliance documentation for candidates for U.S. type certificates under FAR 23 and the Primary Category airworthiness standards,” Fiduccia says, “it has been estimated that the initial audit would take two or three days for three specialists (structures, flight, and systems and propulsion) and cost less than the profit margin on a [single] $35,000 LSA. However, until the standards are drafted, it is not possible to estimate the cost with accuracy.”
Some have said auditing should be mandatory because the program won’t work unless everyone has to follow it. Fiduccia, VanGrunsven and Heintz, however, advocated that the standard be voluntary and let the customers decide how important it is to have the manufacturer’s statement of compliance backed up by a independent auditing group.
Aero Sports Connection CEO Jim Stephenson and others also asserted that an audit standard should not be mandatory. Larry Burke, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA), amplified that thought. “The existing ASTM quality assurance standards require the manufacturer to perform some form of audit (either internal or by third party at the choice of the manufacturer) on an annual or biannual schedule and a record made thereof.”
Rotax, Evektor and others observed that they already meet ISO 9000 standards (which are based on an independent audit) and do not require other outside audits. (ISO 9000 has be-come an international reference for quality requirements in business-to-business dealings. It is widely used throughout the world and is similar to ASTM in helping businesses standardize their systems.)
Before adjournment of the group, which meets twice each year, a task group had been formed with Paul Fiduccia as its chairperson and many Light-Sport Aircraft committee members as participants. The issue remains contentious, but the task group will work on a specification to guide third-party audits.
Some saw value in a standard defining how an audit should be conducted, partly as an aid to those manufacturers who have never been through such a procedure. LAMA has prepared a draft of just such a standard, and the newly formed Audit Task Group will review it along with other ideas. Post-meeting discussions are already firming the actions of this group.
An LSA Standards Progress Report