Any organization that must consistently prove airworthiness requirements can relate to the frustrating tasks of locating and providing proof their products will perform in accordance with standards, rules and laws in a myriad of countries.
No more so is this appropriate than in the aerospace industry where everything is built on safety. Every rule, every design requirement has blood on it. These rules exist because someone was or can be hurt, a plane could crash, or any number of catastrophic incidents can occur.
This is why there are rigorous standards in place to ensure anything that can take off and land, from the smallest glider and helicopter to the largest commercial airliner and military jet, must receive and maintain an airworthiness certificate. The process of aircraft certification can be daunting simply because many organizations don’t take proactive approaches in the development phase through delivery to make it so.
Electrical and software engineering is advancing at a rapid pace, paving the way for greater electric aircraft adoption. Meanwhile, costs associated with more complicated certification are equaling or exceeding the costs of development. Imagine, nearly 50 percent of the cost of development and production is proving the product is safe and will work.
Established procedures for testing have been developed over generations, but eAircraft, hybrid-electric aircraft built with an electric motor and drive, doesn’t necessarily align with these protocols. Since the certification standards for eAircraft still need to be worked out, it’s important to invest in the right testing, simulation, verification and validation tools to ensure compliance and that standards, whatever they may be, are met. Digitalization is increasingly part of the manufacturing and production process, it belongs in the certification and verification process too, simply due to the amount and type of data and documentation needed to prove airworthiness.
Where are the aircraft certification data points?
Airworthiness is about designing to specification; it touches everything, including manufacturing and quality. The fundamental questions all center on safety. Is the airplane meeting design criteria? Does it have the strength, handling and stability it needs? The questions go on and on, and the engineers must show standards are being met through an array of means demonstrating compliance; proof of analysis, design, simulation and verification.
When the airplane is sold, it’s the responsibility of the owner and operator to consistently prove the aircraft remains airworthy and certified; this includes certification for those working on and operating the machine from the mechanic to the pilot.
Unfortunately, many organizations tend to put fulfillment of airworthiness requirements into a separate activity and lose sight that it’s loaded into every aspect of the aircraft. Airworthiness certification should be a parallel activity, not a separate one, and definitely not held off until the end of just the design. Unfortunately, more often than not, data is scattered – it could be on a shared drive, local desktop or even a piece of paper in a desk or a file with someone’s initials stating they checked the analysis.
After-market repairs or questions often mean seeking out the person who signed off on any number of designs. But what if they aren’t there?
Aircraft are in use for decades, so the engineers could have sought employment elsewhere, retired or passed away. The solution, then, is to go backward, which in itself can be a laborious challenge. Sometimes the only other airplanes available for reference are ones on a military base or inside a museum, forcing mechanics and engineers to figure out from scratch how to make it work. Stories of cannibalizing or reverse-engineering older aircraft for parts so they can be airworthy again are all too common, costly and extremely inefficient.
Part of the problem stems from the OEMs themselves that naturally want to keep the critical information to themselves so they can be contracted out for maintenance and repairs. Lack of access to data means buyers lack the knowledge to properly fix the aircraft.
The Department of Defense operates by contracting maintenance and repairs because they need a lot of data, such as quality data, software data, and calibration of tools and their budgets don’t align with the cost. However, if there isn’t a person trained or if the data is inaccessible to do the maintenance on a helicopter, then the mission is negatively impacted since the asset isn’t available. In the DoD, it’s all about readiness.
Digital certification management makes sense and saves cents
A comprehensive digital certification management system allows companies to manage their data and navigate the aircraft certification process through the engineering review, test, check and equipment qualifications phases easier and with greater efficiently.
While the money and timesaving opportunities are greater, so is reducing the possibility of bad publicity. Fleets get grounded, airlines have problems and the news outlets fight for views using the perils of flying for bait. A reliable digital certification management system has a record to prove it met the airworthiness requirements and can trace back who made the part, answer if it was analyzed and was signed off.
Digital certification management proves the right disciplined processes were being used and that there’s accountability and traceability throughout the lifecycle. No longer will a company rely on home grown or paper-based processes that include printed analysis reports, with no means to the engineering data, piling up on an engineer’s desk.
Digital certification management can also help win bids because the process is managed more efficiently, meaning the bids can be more accurate avoiding overruns and costly delays. Aircraft certification data is also more readily available and easier to locate, and the right versions of the right iteration keeps the process flowing smoothly, or smoother than the analysis on the piece of paper.
Dozens to hundreds of data types are needed in design through sustainment. If there isn’t an integrated configuration management system that can provide the digital thread of certification processes and information, aircraft and engine OEMs and their owner operators won’t be able to put the right information into the right hands when needed.
Digital certification management solves one of the things customers have challenges with when it comes to airworthiness certification – the technical documentation isn’t ready until very end stalling time as they scrounge for materials. SharePoint and Excel sheets can house data, but don’t manage the airworthiness verification process like a digital certification management solution can.
This concludes our post on airworthiness requirements and certification.
About the author
Dave Chanis a technical account manager supporting the aerospace, defense and federal business for Siemens PLM Software. His career with Siemens PLM Software started in 1996, and he has driven customer success with the adoption of digitalization and digital engineering solutions for numerous commercial and federal customers. Dave has been in the engineering software business for more than 22 years. He has a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering degree from Lehigh University.