Safety is fundamental in aviation. All aircraft electronics must meet strict safety criteria. To this end, authorities have defined guidelines and standards that have to be met from the very start of the electronic systems engineering development process.
These standards, quality and environmental requirements vary depending on the type of aircraft. It is therefore essential to consider beforehand the type of aircraft in which the systems are going to be installed in order to meet all the necessary requirements.
The key: safety during aircraft operation
Airworthiness is the ability of an aircraft to operate safely in accordance with its functionality. This capability is certified by the competent authorities in each area and for each aircraft type and it is maintained for as long as the necessary maintenance actions are carried out.
Depending on the organisation (such as the ICAO, FAA or EASA), there are different definitions of airworthiness, although they all revolve around the same principle: the ability of the aircraft (engine, propeller, etc.) to operate safely in accordance with its design.
In order to maintain these safety levels and criteria, it is necessary for suppliers to comply with the various regulations and to obtain the necessary approvals for the use of their products. Any systems engineering company intending to market electronic products must take this into account, meaning that it is imperative to be aware of which type of aircraft its products are destined for.
Main regulations required by the authorities
Depending on the type of aircraft and the market (American or European), the requirements made by each competent authority should be taken into account. In this article we do not intend to provide an exhaustive list of regulations but rather mention the most representative ones.
FAA Parts Manufacturer Approval
The PMA (Parts Manufacturer Approval) is a recognition at both design and manufacturing level for the modification and replacement of components by the American authority (FAA, Federal Aviation Administration of the United States). It is a recognition that allows the manufacturer to produce and sell their components for installation on certified aircraft.
The importance of knowing in advance which aircraft the system will be developed for is evident here. The PMA is only valid for the aircraft model on which the product has been tested. This approval certifies that product installation, replacements or modifications can be made while maintaining the airworthiness level of the aircraft.
FAA Technical Standard Order
A TSO (Technical Standard Order) is a minimum performance standard for a range of materials, parts and appliances used in aviation. The authorisation for a company to manufacture a material, part or appliance to a TSO standard is known as a TSO Authorisation (TSOA). Receiving a TSO Authorisation is both a design approval and a production approval.
When it gains TSO authorisation, a company is authorised to manufacture components that may be installed on aircraft, but only after demonstrating that it meets the specific airworthiness requirements of that particular model. In other words, TSO authorisation signifies that the component meets minimum performance, but it does not take into account the aircraft into which it will be installed. It therefore permits its manufacture but it does not in itself authorise its installation and use on the aircraft until all the requirements for that specific model are justified (additional recognition to be carried out by the FAA).
EASA European Technical Standard Order
Similar to the American authorities, the ESTO (European Technical Standard Order) is a standard that ensures that the components comply with certain minimum requirements according to the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency). In all instances, it is necessary to request approval for the on-board installation of the component in question, demonstrating that all the certifications for that type of aircraft are met.
These approvals are also mutually recognised between the FAA and EASA, so that the FAA accepts an ETSOA for items from the European Union, and EASA accepts TSOAs for items from the United States of America.
How to obtain approvals to develop aeronautical equipment
As we have seen, to certify the safety of different types of aircraft, it is essential to comply with all the approvals required by the authorities. Obtaining these approvals is not easy as you must prove that you have both the production capacity and a quality system in place that allows you to meet the relevant specifications.
In order to comply with these processes, you need to devote a significant amount of resources from your systems engineering and quality departments to the task over several months, which may be difficult in terms of your organisation’s production targets.
So, if your company has decided to apply for approval from one of these authorities, or is planning to do so, you can enlist the help of an organisation to develop the procedures in accordance with the regulations, whether they be EASA or FAA. This will ensure that your certification is successful and at the same time will impact less on your own resources.
In addition, the real barrier to entry is often a lack of specific knowledge of the authorities’ authorisation processes. Understanding, interpreting and complying with documents from organisations such as the FAA, EASA, etc. can be complicated for companies with no prior experience in the sector, resulting in problems in obtaining authorisations.
At Centum, we have over 10 years’ experience in this type of certification. If you would like any advice on this, please do not hesitate to contact us.