Airworthiness is about past, present and future. It’s about aircraft, procedures and people. Its about design, manufacturing, maintenance, repair and overhaul. That said, when it comes to what people do and the life-cycle of an aircraft there are two distinct phases. Put simply, one is all the work that goes on before an aircraft enters service and the other is that work done for an aircraft in service. The end of the life cycle of an aircraft doesn’t get nearly as much attention. It’s is a subject that is of growing interest, as the afterlife is all about recycling and reuse of aircraft components.
Back to the two phases and they can be called; Initial Airworthiness and Continuing Airworthiness. Each has its own ways of doing business, technical language and even its own specialised professions. Here, I’ll rough out a description of Initial Airworthiness based upon how they are seen from the regulatory point of view.
Initial Airworthiness goes from the first concept of a new product, through design and manufacture all the way up to the day that a Type Certificate (TC) is handed over. That Type Certificate is a declaration that, an aircraft type meets a given Airworthiness Code.
If you ask why? The place to go is an international document called ICAO Annex 8. This contains, in broad terms, the technical standards concerning Airworthiness. There are 192 ICAO Contacting States. However, the number of ICAO States that design and manufacturing large aircraft for commercial use is small.
In principle, each ICAO States can establish its own Airworthiness Code. In practice, most ICAO States select an established code and adopt it. There are two major global players in this field; one is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the other is the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). So, if you want to make a new large aircraft and operate in most places in the world, the first step is to secure a Type Certificate from either FAA or EASA or both.
Before I get into trouble, there are other Airworthiness codes and some historical ones too. Canada has its own code. Britain and France originally had their own codes. It was the development of the Concorde supersonic aircraft in the early 1970s that led to the move towards a common European code. It’s a challenging and difficult business maintaining and updating such codes especially if they must address the latest advanced technology.
From initial application, and the setting down of a certification basis, to the day of granting a Type Certificate, analysis and testing are demanding and rigorous. Industry and Authorities specialist, in every aeronautical field are dedicated to ensuring that certification achieves its objectives.
Now, the Type Certificate is a measure of the fitness to fly of a type of aircraft. Once that has been secured the next step is to get a Certificate of Airworthiness (CofA) to say that an individual aircraft complies with the agreed type design. Then an aircraft is fit to fly.