First Word: May 2014

Building for a new FAR 23

You’ve probably heard about the ARC’s (Aviation Rule Making Committee) proposal to the FAA that could relax the stringent certification process for small aircraft. I think we can all agree that it’s time to change the certification standards that exist in FAR 23 regulations, particularly when it comes to avionics. This was obvious as I looked at two new integrated avionics suites that were introduced at the annual Sun ‘n Fun show this past April.

Garmin brought its latest generation G3X—the G3X Touch. It’s been redesigned from the ground up and is available in a variety of configurations. As the name implies, it has a touchscreen feature set, plus a long list of standard and optional features that you might expect in a newly designed avionics system. You can read all about it starting on page 8 of this issue.

The other attention-getter was Dynon Avionics’ reworked Skyview, relabeled the Skyview Touch. It too has a new touchscreen feature set, along with a major software improvement that finally enables more integration with popular IFR navigators, including the GNS530/430 and GTN750/650. But as impressive as both of these systems are (including the price point—both systems start at under $6000), you can’t legally install them in a certified aircraft and that’s unfortunate for a market that’s struggling to afford avionics upgrades.

Uncertified avionics isn’t unchartered territory and these new systems from Garmin and Dynon could help support a Part 23 rewrite. For years, Dynon has served the experimental aircraft market and more recently, the light sport market, with uncertified avionics that have features and a price point that puts many certified systems to shame. I’ve been involved in enough experimental avionics retrofits to know that there’s no shortage of failsafe that exists in the wiring interconnection between components and the electrical bus (a major concern the FAA has for avionics in certified aircraft). In many cases, these systems have more failsafe than certified interfaces, and it’s not uncommon for many experimental avionics suites to have several layers of backup.
One airplane manufacturer that’s making a sizable contribution to the Part 23 ARC technical and regulatory committee is Flight Design, the maker of the CT-series LSA. Flight Design is we’ll along in the development of its C4, a four-place composite single that will be powered by the Continental IO-360AF alternate fuel engine, will have a whole-airplane parachute, an impressive 1320-pound useful load and an 80-gallon fuel capacity. 

But the big news from Flight Design is its selection of Garmin’s non-certified G3X Touch avionics. This is a bold step because the C4 is intended to be an IFR-approved airplane that will be certified under FAA Part 23. An integral part of that IFR capability is the presence of Garmin’s certified GTN750 IFR navigator and GNC255 navcomm. Flight Design could have selected the certified G1000 integrated avionics, but that would have driven up the cost of the airplane that’s expected to sell for around $250,000 with the G3X Touch as standard.

Flight Design says it can use the uncertified G3X Touch avionics in a certified C4 because the proposed Part 23 rewrite has a provision for non-TSO approved equipment when blanketed under the aircraft’s type certificate. It may seem like Flight Design is taking a huge gamble by banking on the distant changes to FAR 23, but the fallback in the C4­—should the Part 23 rewrite or G3X Touch fail—is the backup flight instruments, along with the certified GTN750 that sits in the middle of the instrument panel. That’s a smart and affordable approach to new airplane certification. —Larry Anglisano