Walk the line

Aeronautical products must be certified before entering transport services. Is certification too complex? Is it too expensive and thus a barrier to innovation? Hasn’t deregulation delivered successes since the 1970s? More choice and more aviation services across the globe.

These are perfectly reasonable questions. They are asked frequently. Especially during economically tough times and when new products are pushing to get operational. In answering, it’s all too often a butting of heads that results. Industry puts its point. Authorities put theirs. Commercial reality and public interests settle at some point which leaves the debate on the table for next time.

Walking that line between satisfying the demand of the new and protecting the good safety performance of the aviation system is a perpetual challenge. It goes without saying that we all know what happens when the line is crossed. Textbooks will continue to chew over stories like that of the Boeing 737 MAX development. In fact, the stories of safety lapses are an important part of the learning process that led to aviation’s admirable safety record.

The counter argument is that we are in a new situation and that technology has significantly changed. This argument of the “new” is not new. Every major new step encountered significant hurdles to overcome. Pick-up the story of the development of the Boeing 747[1][2] and it’s a real dramatic page turner. However, the problem remains the same but as much innovative thinking needs to go into certification as the products that are certified. There’s a reason that’s difficult and its called legacy.

On the public’s behalf, how big is the risk appetite of the certification authorities? At the same time how far do the innovators want to push the envelope knowing that liability rest on their shoulders?

What I find inadequate is that when reading reports like “Funding Growth in Aerospace[3]” I find little, or no consideration is given to funding regulatory improvement. Arguments are for product development and little else. It’s as if certification activities are to be blamed for holding up innovations introduction to service but forget any thought of increasing the resources for certification activities.

It’s short-sighted. Believe it or not there is money to be made in testing and validation. There’s money to be made in education and training. These go hand in hand with efforts to exploit innovative products.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37231980

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/07/joe-sutter-obituary

[3] https://www.ati.org.uk/publications/

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