Aircraft Certification Requirements
Certification requirements for civil [commercial] aircraft are derived from ICAO Annex 8 Airworthiness of Aircraft and the ICAO Airworthiness Manual, Part V State of Design and State of Manufacture. Each ICAO contracting state then establishes its own legal framework to implement the internationally agreed standards and recommended practices.
Procedures for certification of aeronautical products (aircraft, engines and propellers) are published in each state. In the EU, these are contained in EC Regulation 748/2012 Annex I - Part 21, whereas in USA they are within FAR Part 21. These “Part 21” regulations also include procedures for the approval of design organisations (Sub-part J) and production organisations (Sub-part G). These processes are known respectively as Design Organisation Approval (DOA) and Production Organisation Approval (POA).
Such approvals are a necessary pre-requisite to obtaining product certification. The main technical codes to be followed for the design of products for certification are set out below as a list of certification specifications for Europe (EASA) and airworthiness standards for USA (FAA) applicable to different categories of product and environmental consideration.
|Sailplanes and Powered Sailplanes
|Normal, Utility, Aerobatic and Commuter Aeroplanes
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: NORMAL, UTILITY, ACROBATIC, AND COMMUTER CATEGORY AIRPLANES
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: TRANSPORT CATEGORY AIRPLANES
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: NORMAL CATEGORY ROTORCRAFT
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: TRANSPORT CATEGORY ROTORCRAFT
|(Gas Balloons) (Hot Air Balloons)
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: MANNED FREE BALLOONS
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: AIRCRAFT ENGINES
|AIRWORTHINESS STANDARDS: PROPELLERS
|Light Sport Aeroplanes
|Very Light Aeroplanes
|Very Light Rotorcraft
|Aircraft Engine Emissions and Fuel Venting
|FUEL VENTING AND EXHAUST EMISSION REQUIREMENTS FOR TURBINE ENGINE POWERED AIRPLANES
|NOISE STANDARDS: AIRCRFAT TYPE AND AIRWORTHINESS CERTIFICATION
For full details of EASA Certification Specifications see the EASA Agency rules (Soft law). Full details of FAA Standards are also available.
Compliance with these specifications or standards is approached in one of two ways depending on the requirement. For structures typically the approach is known as Deterministic whereas for systems, a Probabilistic approach is taken. One example of each approach would be:
- For structure - No detrimental deformation of the airframe under the loads produced by a given magnitude of manoeuvre.
- For systems - Any catastrophic failure condition must (i) be extremely improbable [1 x 10-9 per flight hour]; and (ii) must not result from a single failure.
For the safety assessment of aircraft systems, regulations are given in EASA CS25.1309 and FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee draft AC25.1309-1B. Useful guidelines for conducting the safety assessment process are also given in ARP4761.
The process for civil aircraft by which type certification is achieved comprises four steps. These are outlined below, but additional details can be found from EASA (2010), Type certification and FAA Order 8110.4C
1. Technical Overview and Certification Basis The product designer presents the project to the primary certificating authority (PCA) - EASA in EU, FAA in USA - when it is sufficiently mature. The certification team and the set of rules (Certification Basis) that will apply for the certification of this specific product type are established. In principal this agreed certification basis remains unchanged for a period of five years for an aircraft, three years for an engine.
2. Certification Programme The PCA and the designer define and agree on the means to demonstrate compliance of the product type with every requirement of the Certification Basis. Also at this stage the level of regulatory involvement is proposed and agreed.
3. Compliance demonstration The designer has to demonstrate compliance of the aircraft with regulatory requirements: for all elements of the product e.g. the airframe, systems, engines, flying qualities and performance. Compliance demonstration is done by analysis combined with ground and flight testing. The PCA will perform a detailed examination of this compliance demonstration, by means of selected document reviews and test witnessing.
4. Technical closure and Type Certificate issue When technically satisfied with the compliance demonstration by the designer, the PCA closes the investigation and issues a Type certificate. For European-designed aircraft, EASA delivers the primary certification which is subsequently validated by other authorities for registration and operation in their own countries, e.g. the FAA for the USA. Similarly EASA will validate the FAA certification of US-designed aircraft. This validation is carried out under a Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreement (BASA) between the states concerned.
a. A Type Certificate applies to an aircraft (engine or propeller) of a particular Type Design. Every individual aircraft of that type has to gain its own Certificate of Airworthiness C of A which is achieved when it can be shown to conform to the certificated Type Design and is in a condition for safe operation. As a general rule civil aircraft are not allowed to fly unless they have a valid C of A.
b. Organisation approvals, issued under Part 21, are based on regulatory assessment of capability, facilities, manpower, resources and quality assurance systems in relation to the tasks undertaken. Helpful supporting standards in this respect are AS/EN 9100 and AS/EN9120B.
c. Certification of military aircraft has in the past not followed the typical Type Certification Process outlined above. However since 2010 in Europe a very similar process has been evolved by the European Defence Agency (EDA). Known as the Military Airworthiness Authorities (MAWA) Forum, one of the documents published is a military guide to certification, denoted EMAR21. The documents are issued as requirements and do not have legal standing but are nevertheless being followed by a number of states both within and outside Europe.
Accidents and Incidents
There follows a sample of extracts from reports held on SKYbrary that involve a design issue as a contributory factor in the accident:
On 22 March 2021, the pilots of a Boeing 747-8F which had just reached its initial cruise level after departing Dubai observed smoke and sparks coming from the window heating system and declared a PAN advising their intention to dump fuel and return to Dubai. With the faulty system switched off, this was accomplished without further event. It was found that the cause of the system malfunction was a design-related vulnerability with a history of recurrence which had not been adequately addressed by the aircraft manufacturer and the FAA as safety regulator following relevant NTSB Safety Recommendations made in 2007.
On 18 October 2019, a Boeing 787-9 descending to 4,500 feet to join the ILS for runway 25R at Hong Kong at 15 nm from touchdown failed to establish on the localiser. The autopilot was disconnected and the aircraft manually positioned onto the localiser from the north establishing at 12 nm with terrain proximity not sufficient to activate the EGPWS. It was found that the deviation was attributable to an anomaly in the aircraft type Autopilot Flight Director System and a corresponding Alert Service Bulletin was issued by Boeing to replace the faulty system component.
On 31 December 2020, an Airbus A330-200 identified a fuel leak during a routine top-of-climb check but instead of following the prescribed engine shutdown and leak isolation procedure and then landing as soon as possible, the crew had continued on track until diverting to N’Djaména over 90 minutes later by which time nearly six tonnes of fuel was missing. The leak was caused by an incorrectly assembled connection at the pylon/engine interface. The flight crew’s procedural non-compliance was identified as having introduced an avoidable fire risk and been indicative of a systemically weak safety culture at the airline concerned.
On 1 August 2019, an Airbus A320 annunciated an abnormal gear status indication when retraction was attempted after takeoff. Soon afterwards, an aircraft part was observed by an aircraft following the same taxi route as the A320 and recovered. After completing relevant drills, the A320 returned and completed a landing with significant damage to the left main gear which was nevertheless locked down. The runway was vacated and passengers disembarked. The Investigation found that the cause of the problem was the cyclic fatigue of a pin linking the two parts of the left main gear torque link of manufacturing origin.
On 6 March 2018, smoke was detected coming from flight deck and passenger cabin air conditioning vents of an en-route Bombardier DHC8-400. A MAYDAY was declared to ATC but the prescribed response effectively cleared the smoke and no emergency evacuation on landing was deemed necessary. The Investigation found that the smoke was caused by oil leaking into the air conditioning system due to a failed right hand engine seal. The operator subsequently began to implement a recommended engine modification and adopt a system provided by the engine manufacturer to proactively detect such oil leaks before air conditioning systems are contaminated.
- De Florio F (2016), Airworthiness: An Introduction to Aircraft Certification, 3rd edition, Butterworth-Heinemann
- EASA (2016), Certification Specifications and Acceptable Means of Compliance for Large Aeroplanes CS-25 (external links)
- EASA (2010), Type certification, PR.TC.00001-002 (external link)
- EASA (2017) Agency rules (Soft law), Certification Specifications
- EC (2012), Commission regulation (EU) No 748/2012, laying down implementing rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations. (external link)
- EC (2014), Commission regulation (EU) No 1321/2014 on the continuing airworthiness of aircraft and aeronautical products, parts and appliances, and on the approval of organisations and personnel involved in these tasks. (external link)
- EDA (2017) Military Airworthiness Authorities (MAWA) Forum
- EDA (2016), EMAR 21 - Certification of Military Aircraft and Related Products, Parts and Appliances, and Design and Production Organisations, Edition 1.2
- FAA (2011), Type Certification, Order 8110.4C (external link)
- FAA, FAA Standards
- FAA, FAR Part 21 - Certification Procedures for Products and Articles (external link)
- FAA (2002), AC25.1309-1B System Design and Analysis, Draft Arsenal edition. (external link)
- ICAO (2016), Annex 8 Airworthiness of Aircraft, 11th Edition, ICAO
- ICAO (2014), Doc 9760 Airworthiness Manual, Part V. State of Design and State of Manufacture, 3rd Edition, ICAO.
- SAE International (1996), ARP 4761 Guidelines and Methods for conducting the safety assessment process on civil airborne systems and equipment, SAE (1996)
- SAE International (2016), AS/EN9100D, Quality Management Systems - Requirements for Aviation, Space, and Defence Organisations
- SAE International (2016), AS/EN9120B Quality Management Systems – Requirements for Aviation, Space, and Defence Distributors
- Final report: Section 103 ODA Expert Review Panel, 2024