Airplane Modifications - What's the problem?

Q. What do you consider to be the biggest problem with getting your airplane customized with features that make flying safer, more efficient, and more practical?

Observations of an FAA-DER and aircraft owner who gets it from both sides:  From my vantage point, I see lots of people working to customize their airplanes to meet their own specific needs.  And I am one, too.  Let's face it.  Those needs are driven by a world of technology and limitations that are changing faster and faster as we go.  Try as they might, manufacturers are left to guessing about the future in a vain attempt to equip new airplanes with the perfect package of features that address both todays and tomorrows needs.  At some point, they must settle on a configuration that they hope will fill the needs of the flying public in a way that will keep their product in popularity for as long as possible.  No truer is this today than it was, say... in 1986... 1976... 1946... 1936... 1926.  As time marches forward, we find new and fresh technology that was designed with the best of intentions to integrate in to airplanes, new and old.  New innovation in manufacturing methods have brought some previously unattainable products within the possibility for some Aircraft Owners.  We look at these and say, "Now that will make sense for upgrading my airplane!  I can fly more safely, more practically, more efficiently."  We save our pennies as the supply and demand brings the price of such features in line with our pocket book.  And the time comes... time to marry the old with the new and modify our beloved flying machines.  But there is a problem.

These well-designed products are subject to scrutiny by the FAA.  The installation must be approved.  OK... so... this is not new.  Whats the big deal, right?  Well... it has become a HUGE deal for most Aircraft Owners.  Aircraft certification in today's world costs more money and time than ever.  For many Aircraft Owners... we are priced out of these kinds of upgrades.  We are left with no alternative but to continue trying to keep our aging airplanes flying with out-dated design features.  We ALL know the problem in general.  It seems the same everywhere.  What can be done??

There are some efforts aimed at improving small airplane certification.  One of the proposals with some momentum is a re-write of the 14 CFR Part 23 Airworthiness Requirements for Small Airplanes.  This is viewed by some, with narrow vision, as the best way to attack the problem.  I see it as years in the making and perhaps only some help and really not much help to the "process".  Another angle has been to approach this from a safety perspective.  Not a bad idea.  The most recent meeting was hosted by the NTSB with heavy participation by FAA. You can read the FAA summary of this meeting here. OK it is a start, but as might be expected, the focus is on equipping new airplanes with "NextGen" capable systems.  Or old airplanes with angle of attack indicators. It is hard to argue against these goals.  But does this really help you and me with our airplanes?  So I ask again... What's the problem?   In my opinion... THE PROBLEM IS THE PROCESS. The certification steps have become buried in a mire of greyness that everyone interprets differently.  And... its no wonder there are varying degrees of understanding... the legislative system produces new rules at a rate growing exponentially out of hand.  Who can keep up?

The FIX to the problem should start with those of us who are stifled in our efforts to use the broken system.  We need to define the specific issues we have had.  We need to provide details.  Without enough detail defining our problems, it seems the alphabet agencies always gravitate in the same general direction because they lack a REAL database of the issues. The certification industry needs to have REAL examples and REAL stories if we are ever going to get a handle on the issues.

So here's our opportunity as Aircraft Owners to provide input.    I am posing this question and hope for feedback from those who care.

Terry L. Bowden, Consultant DER

Owner: Certified Aeronautical Products

Owner: 1946 Taylorcraft BC12D

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