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Making “Safe” Even Safer

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FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has three times in the last year and a half given public speeches that applauded the safety record of Light-Sport Aircraft.

To many observers, the one overriding reason for aircraft standards or certification or regulations is safety.

All other reasons are a distant second. “Safety first” is an oft-repeated phrase for very good reasons.

While not overlooking or minimizing losses that have occurred while flying LSA, the safety record of factory-built Special Light-Sport Aircraft is nonetheless quite good, especially so given the brief time that these aircraft have existed. So, how can we make something that is demonstrably quite safe even safer? It’s a worthy question and LAMA is developing at least one part of a larger solution.

The association has launched LAMAsafety.org. In “alpha launch” now, it will go “beta” by the end of 2010.

During “beta launch,” the public will be invited to visit but final arrangements and functions are still being added. The final “go live” to the public should occur by the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in late January 2011.

What does FAA think of LAMA’s initiative? The agency is very pleased as it demonstrates the industry is doing the work intended when the agency released the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft rule back in the summer of 2004 after more than 10 years of consideration and planning.

INDUSTRY-CREATED CERTIFICATION STANDARDS

Most aviators know by now that FAA charged industry with preparing its own certification standards to prove aircraft are airworthy. That effort since the early 2000s has produced much more than the comprehensive Design & Performance standard. The D&P standard governs load tests, flight tests, and much more and these are the tasks most people consider to be certification requirements. Indeed they are but industry also drafted, balloted, and passed numerous other standards.

One of these is the Continued Operation Safety Monitoring, or COSM, standard. Others are written for Quality Assurance, Maintenance Manuals, Required Product Information, Pilot’s Operating Handbook, and more.

In addition, ASTM subcommittees and task groups have written standards for engines, propellers, airframe parachutes, and even airport layout.

All these standards are for fixed-wing airplanes but an equivalent set of standards was written for weight shift control aircraft (popularly known as trikes) and for powered parachutes, gliders, and gyroplanes. It sounds exhausting and it has been. While FAA has served on subcommittees and task groups — getting one vote just like any other entity — the fact remains that a large body of work has been done by overwhelmingly volunteer labor. Plus, all of this work has been done in the last six or seven years. Truly, quite impressive.

However commendable the writing of all these standards — each representing hundreds or thousands of man-hours of work — the achievement is nothing if these standards are not implemented, maintained, and tracked.

LAMA ACCEPTS A ROLE

After receiving the go-ahead from its board of directors and securing funds from the manufacturing  community, LAMA began work on LAMAsafety.org. This new website is simple in concept but essential in value.

LAMA’s new website links to Special and Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft manufacturers. These links are not to the home or sales pages but to Internet locations where Safety Bulletins are presented. Since each company builds its website according to their sense of design, the safety locations are different at nearly every web address. So the first value of LAMAsafety.org is that it helps a mechanic or owner to locate the important safety information.

Such a web portal makes it easier for customers — especially second or third buyers of LSA, a sector that will grow significantly over the years. LSA mechanics can appreciate a central collection spot for all safety information, service advisories and more. This will allow them to more quickly get the information they need to accomplish work for customers. Through another planned feature they will be able to leave Service Difficulty Reports, or SDRs, that will be relayed to companies to hasten solutions.

Under ASTM standards both manufacturers and owners have responsibilities to make this non-governmental oversight system function as intended.

LAMAsafety.org will list these duties so everyone can know their part of the safety solution.

The ASTM standard for Continued Operations Safety Monitoring lists three levels of notices manufacturers can issue:

• Safety Alert — Shall be used for notifications that require immediate action.

• Service Bulletins — Shall be used for notifications that do not require immediate action but do recommend future action.

• Notification — Shall be used for notifications that do not necessarily recommend future action but are primarily for promulgation of continued airworthiness information.

All notices should include details such as what make and model LSA is involved, when the notice is effective, what limits are placed on corrective actions that can be taken in the field, and which serial numbers are affected.

Using a common format guides those reviewing these notices.

HIDDEN VALUE

Having access to such information is great, especially when a website like LAMAsafety.org makes that information easier to find. For an active business, it should be possible to find the safety bulletins directly at the manufacturer’s main website. As LSA manufacturers are the final authority regarding how their aircraft are equipped and maintained it is essential to maintain access to their technical information. But what if a manufacturer goes out of business?

LAMAsafety.org will do more than link visitors to manufacturer safety website locations. Using “scraper” software technology, LAMA will also gather and store these safety bulletins. If a company’s website goes dark, LAMA is working to be able to supply any bulletins formerly issued by a now-defunct company. This can allow a new company to pick up the duty or to support an owners group that may fill the role if no company is interested.

More Information — In addition to the safety notices, LAMAsafety.org will offer a list of countries that either accept ASTM standards or are working on doing so. Another list will show countries with bilateral agreements with the USA (a necessary element of delivering foreign-made LSA for sale in America).

And the website will include a link to FAA’s matrix of currently accepted standard revisions so owners and mechanics know which is the relevant document to use in making repairs or alterations.

Anticipation for the website is building and FAA recently issued a letter showing strong support for LAMAsafety.org.

If you find LAMA’s goals worthy, your business can support these initiatives by joining the organization.

Manufacturers of any aviation products sold to the LSA industry are welcome.

But so are importers, dealers, flight schools or any other enterprise that does business with Light-Sport Aircraft producers. Your support will be appreciated and the industry will be doing what FAA and many other observers want the industry to do, successfully police itself.

For more information, please visit www.LAMA.bz.

November 2010 Light Aviation Edition

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