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Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC

“Exciting Regulatory Updates”

The Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) Airventure (Oshkosh) was a few weeks ago at the end of July.  This convention/fly-in/airshow is also a culmination of many press releases and legislative and rule-making activity.  As always when I get back from Oshkosh, I am super-excited about flying and aviation.  I wanted to recap two significant events that have taken place in the past few months that will have a positive impact on aviation over the next several years.

FAA Medical Reform

On July 15, President Obama signed the FAA Authorization Extension which included third class medical reform.  Most WVFC members are flying under part 91, which requires a third class medical and a trip to the Airman Medical Examiner's (AME's) office either every five years (for pilots under age 40) or every two years (for pilots over 40).  A wide variety of conditions can delay or prevent issuance of a medical certificate.  Under the new process, a pilot will go through the medical certification process once.  Thereafter, a pilot needs to complete an online course once every two years and visit a physician (not necessarily an AME) once every four years.  The FAA has until July 15 2017 to get the rule in place, so for now a third-class medical certificate is still required.

The impact of this law should mean that more pilots can keep flying, safely, as they age. Additionally, those flying under special issuances will not need to continue to submit paperwork to show that conditions haven't changed.  One of the bases for the reform was the experience with the Sport Pilot License.  Pilots flying under a Sport Pilot certificate only need to meet the medical standards of a driver license.  In ten years, there have been no accidents attributable to the driver license medical standards versus the third class medical standards.  Thus, the new reforms should increase the flying pilot population without reducing safety.  This is great for generation aviation.

STC Approval for Experimental Avionics

WVFC pilots flying some of the older aircraft on the flight line are familiar with GPS devices and other avionics that are decades old.  iPads, mobile phones, and 'experimental' avionics are vastly superior in their computing power and capability to these devices.  However, certifying new avionics is cripplingly expensive, meaning that new technology is either very expensive or just not available for certificated aircraft.  The FAA has realized that safety can be enhanced by allowing newer technology into older aircraft cockpits.

Shortly before Airventure, Dynon and Garmin, two avionics manufacturers, announced that they had received STC approval to allow the installation of some of their experimental avionics in some of the more popular certificated airplanes in the general aviation fleet.  A supplemental type certificate (STC) allows a certificated airplane to receiver an approved alteration.  In this case, the alteration is to install an Electronic Flight Information System (EFIS) in place of or in addition to the original attitude indicator.  What is an EFIS?  The Dynon EFIS shows attitude, airspeed, altitude and other flight data in one display.  Not a big deal to those already flying glass cockpits, but the difference here is the price.  The entry level Dynon costs $2600.  This is only slightly more expensive than a certified vacuum-driven attitude indicator.  The Garmin G5 has fewer features than the Dynon but comes in at $2150.

These two STCs are likely to be just the beginning of allowing safety-enhancing, proven 'experimental' aircraft technology into certificated aircraft.  For example, TruTrak is seeking STC approval for its autopilot.  The experimental TruTrak auotpilot sells for $2100.  The least expensive S-Tec autopilot goes for around $8000.  While the autopilot STC is very far from a done-deal, it is at least conceivable with other STCs having been issued.

So, what does this mean?  On a 1979 Archer with a value of under $60,000, it's hard to conceive of installing even a "basic" glass panel for $40,000.  However, the safety and utility to be gained by replacing the attitude indicator with a solid state EFIS, either proactively or when the existing one fails is astounding.

These are the two July announcements that I expect will have the largest impact in the years to come.