EASA cuts its teeth on the biggest of big birds

Paris Air Show » 2007
June 11, 2007, 6:56 AM

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) awarded the Airbus A380, the world’s largest airliner, its official seal of approval just over six months ago last December 12. The certification process for the A380 began in 1998 with France’s DGAC civil aviation authority and continued when EASA assumed responsibility for airworthiness approvals in 2003. The A380 is the first large European aircraft certified by EASA since the new agency started its operations that same year.

The European type certificate is valid in 30 countries–the 27 member states of the European Union as well as in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland. From a legal perspective, EASA actually took over the A380 certification from the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) in 2003 but not until September 2004 did the actual certification team fully transfer to the new agency.

The A380 certification team consists of 42 specialists, including 13 from EASA and the remainder from the DGAC and the UK Civil Aviation Authority. In all, the agency has held more than 800 meetings and worked through more than 1,500 certification documents for this project, as well as participated in several hundred flight testing hours.

A first major step was the type certification of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine in 2005. EASA validation of Engine Alliance’s GP7200, the second engine type to be used on the A380, happened this April (a slight slip on the planned date of January this year). Another important milestone involved the full-scale evacuation of 853 passengers plus crew (18 flight attendants and two pilots) from the aircraft in just 78 seconds–well below the required pass mark of 90 seconds.

EASA executive director Patrick Goudou described the A380 project as a “symbol of international cooperation” and praised the “good collaboration” between the European agency and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as a model for future projects. The A380 is the first large-scale project jointly completed by the European agency and its U.S. counterpart, which issued its approval of the A380 certification at the same time.

New Responsibilities

“We didn’t always start with the same approach and we sometimes had different opinions. But our discussions have been extremely fruitful and I think we have learned a lot from each other in the process. We have come to a common positive conclusion,” reported Goudou.

Referring to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Goudou said, “Our collaboration on the A380 should be an example for future projects. I am thinking of one in particular on the other side of the Atlantic, where the FAA will be in the pilot’s position and EASA in the copilot’s.”

The agency was created to promote safety, but also to assist the aviation industry in Europe and worldwide. “Our future challenges include how to manage the growth of aviation and how to reduce the impact of aircraft emissions,” said Goudou. “These challenges can be met only by an innovative and strong aviation industry and an industry which works through international cooperation.”

The European Commission will probably soon reach a final political decision on the extension of EASA’s responsibilities, from safety and environmental standards to aircraft operations, flight-crew licensing and third-country airlines. This increase in power was proposed more than a year ago but some have been skeptical about whether EASA has the resources and management experience to handle the extra work.

“We expect a decision during the German presidency [of the European Union] and to take on the new tasks by 2008 or 2009. The German presidency and the European Parliament have been very supportive of EASA,” said Goudou.

The agency has been growing quickly at its new headquarters in Cologne, Germany, and now numbers more than 300 experts from all over Europe. Their ranks are expected to increase to 500 by 2010. German experts represent the largest group, followed by French, British and Italians. There also are experts from the new European Union member states of eastern Europe, representing different traditions and working methods.

General Aviation Looms Large
The certification of the A380 was a certainly a great success for EASA, but in terms of number of projects completed, general aviation represents the most important sector. Since the agency started, it has issued 127 airplane type certificates, including 95 in the general-aviation sector, which represents about 75 percent of the total. Currently, EASA experts are working on 30 certification and validation projects.

At the end of April, EASA issued type certification for Dassault Aviation’s new business jet, the Falcon 7X. This certification process began in 2002 with the JAAs and EASA took it over just last year. Perhaps surprisingly, the Falcon 7X certification took twice the time of that for the earlier Falcon 900EX–although it is the world’s first fly-by-wire business jet.

EASA has said it is committed to revitalizing general aviation in Europe. “Our efforts are focused in a special working group called MDM.32,” Goudou explained at the recent Aero show in southern Germany. “The aim of this group is to develop better regulation and to ensure that general aviation can prosper in a safe environment.”

Last August, the group published an advance notice of proposed amendment, a tool to gather views of the aviation community before starting the actual rulemaking process, supposedly ensuring openness and transparency. The general aviation community has already responded with 3,250 replies to this proposal.

The two main principles of the concept proposed by EASA are: first, the level of regulation should be appropriate and proportionate to the risk–that is, where there is a lower risk, there should be less regulation; and, second, the regulation should be designed specifically to bring greater safety benefits. As a result, there should be a reduction in the complexity of certifying noncommercial, noncomplex aircraft. From these two basic principles, EASA will seek to adapt continuing airworthiness and maintenance rules.

EASA also wants to develop a set of light aircraft implementation rules and acceptable means of compliance. For instance, the agency intends to restyle
the current private pilot certificate to a modular system, whereby ratings for different categories of aircraft operations such as gliders, helicopters, balloons, night flight, glider towing and so on and specific authorizations can be attached to a basic common certificate. It also would make changes to pilots’ medical requirements.

The next steps will be to issue the comment response document to continue with the rulemaking process and further consultations. The agency expects to put the new rules in place by 2008.

The new generation of very light jets (VLJs) is also an important topic from a regulatory point of view, since potentially this could be one of the fastest growing sectors in aviation. According to projections, several thousand VLJs could be flying in Europe by 2020.

EASA is currently working on 10 VLJ certification or validation projects. Early last month it certified Cessna’s Citation Mustang (although the manufacturer doesn’t classify the aircraft as a VLJ). The latest estimates are for its rival Eclipse 500 to complete certification by the end of this year, which will be more than a year after it achieves FAA approval.

VLJ Certifications
EASA currently certifies VLJs using special conditions under its CS-23 structures. These specifications do not cover questions relating to specific light jet technical developments–for example, pressurized cabins, high-altitude operations and new technology engine and avionics. Additional special conditions must address those questions. In order to improve the rulemaking process, EASA is working closely with the FAA to adopt new certification specifications for these aircraft.

At the same time, EASA is considering the risks involved with operating VLJs that fly faster and higher than existing aircraft of their size. Since they will share the same upper airspace and busy terminal airspace with commercial airliners, questions have been raised about air traffic management safety and pilot competence on such complex types.

In 2008, EASA is planning to launch a consultation process on VLJ operations through a notice of proposed amendment. Its goal is to have operating rule modifications in place by 2009.

“Again, the principles are that regulation should be targeted to bring greater safety benefits, but that where there is lower risk, we need less regulation,” stressed Goudou.

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