Airworthiness – what’s that?

Now, I get asked the question: what is Airworthiness?  Now you might think the answer was easy.  Just for an analogy you might say; there’s Roadworthiness and Seaworthiness too.  Strangely enough the words; Spaceworthiness and Railworthiness are quite valid but not so often heard outside their fields.  Thus, Land, Sea, Air and Space are all covered.

With a different focus the word; Crashworthiness is often used.  Finally, new to the fold is the up and coming term of Cyberworthiness.

Unsurprisingly, these words are all associated with fitness, legality, safety, soundness and reliability.

In definitions my preference is for simplicity.  Several dictionaries go for the unpretentious definition of airworthiness as: “Fitness to fly”.  Now there are lot of implications associated with that level of brevity.  An aircraft one person considers fit to fly may be totally unfit in the eyes of another.  But, at least those three words get the general concept across because no one would want to knowingly fly in an unfit aircraft.  As one of the classics in aviation quotations sums up nicely: “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.[1]

The next element is legality.  It’s not enough say; this aircraft is fit to fly so jump on-board and let’s go.  From the first days of flying it was quickly recognised that accidents and incidents were going to happen.  Some would be fatal.  Gradually a whole framework of legislation grew-up around flying with the aim of addressing the risks to aviators, their passengers and to the public.

In the early months of 1944, the US Government invited 55 Allied and Neutral States to attend a conference in Chicago.  This forward-looking proposal was to take on the issues and problems that were arising as aviation became more international.  52 States turned up and the outcome was the Convention on International Civil Aviation.  This Chicago Convention was signed in December 1944

Airworthiness was not the first concern of this gathering but the process that followed soon realised that international standards and practices were going to be needed.  So, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was born.  Under Article 37[2] of the Chicago Convention, ICAO is obliged to adopt international standards addressing the airworthiness of aircraft and the licencing of personnel.

Airworthiness became a measure of an aircraft’s suitability for safe flight.  ICAO defines the word “Airworthy” as the status of an aircraft, engine, propeller or part when it conforms to its approved design and is in a condition for safe operation.

For practical purposes, Airworthiness can be considered as the sum of:

  1. An aircraft designed, manufactured and certificated in accordance with requirements;
  2. A continued airworthiness programme to support the aircraft in service;
  3. A maintenance programme to ensure the aircraft is properly serviced and maintained and
  4. Availability of licenced personnel to certify that tasks associated with the above have been properly completed.

Here you can see that Airworthiness has become an aircraft plus a process to assure suitability for safe flight.  Today that’s what it is as interpreted and implemented across the globe.

[1] Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. c. early 1930’s.

[2] https://www.icao.int/publications/Documents/7300_orig.pdf

 

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