Airworthiness & Certification

With self-sufficiency in its air assets as the aim, it is important that civil and military collaboration in India be the mantra for their optimum utilisation and financial prudence

Issue: 12 / 2017By Air Marshal Sukhchain Singh (Retd)Illustration(s): By Anoop Kamath

Airworthiness is the ability of an aircraft or other airborne equipment or system to be operated in flight and on the ground without significant hazard to aircrew, ground crew, passengers or to third parties; it is a technical attribute of materiel throughout its lifecycle.” Airworthiness has a number of aspects which relate to the legal and physical state of an aircraft. According to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the US, the term Airworthy means “When an aircraft or one of its component parts meets its type design and is in a condition for safe operation.

Role of Stakeholders

The flight safety responsibilities are shared among the government, manufacturer and the operator. The government is to lay down airworthiness standards and create a safe environment while the manufacturer has to ensure safe aircraft design and manufactured in conformity with it. The operator is the spearhead who ensures that the aircraft is operated and maintained in conformity with the regulatory provisions and standards set by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Conformity is important in ensuring that the parts are built in accordance with cleared engineering drawings and specifications.

Civil and military airworthiness achieve the same objectives and are no different in their conformity and compliance. However, the civil certification has a pan-world scope which are enshrined in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) conventions to promote common rules and collaboration amongst nations. Every country has its own regulatory authority, although many countries rely on FAA regulations through bilateral agreements. Military airworthiness on the other hand, is within the purview of the nation and the concerned organisation is responsible for the military safety aspects. The ICAO excludes the military aircraft from its convention, but does not prohibit collaboration between the civil and military airworthiness agencies.

‘Make in India’ and After

With the ‘Make in India’ aviation projects and a number of joint ventures being established in both the civil and military aviation sector, how the certification suitable to the Indian environment and self-reliance are achieved, are issues for deliberations. The joint civilmilitary projects such as the development of regional transport aircraft, calls for a hard look into the certification mechanisms. If we are to break away from the shackles of OEM-dominated regulations in the production of aviation assets and support them, then our regulatory agencies both in civil and military need to review of the existing edifice of airworthiness and certification in India.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is the civil aviation regulator in India which conforms to the global regulations set by ICAO. The DGCA has defined regulations which are in sync with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA)/Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of UK/European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The civil aviation operator must conform to the OEM-specified operation and maintenance procedures that are ratified by DGCA and if required limitations imposed based of local conditions. The operator has a leeway to undertake general maintenance practices that may not be specified by the OEM.

Military certification is mandated by Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC). The bible document is the Procedure for Design, Development, Production of Military Aircraft and Airborne Systems (DDPMAS-2002) which lays down the procedure for interaction and coordination between various development agencies, manufacturer and testing establishments. It has no certification procedural documents such as Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR 21) FAA order 8110.46, etc. DDPMAS does not define the procedure, responsibilities and delegated authorities vested on approved design and production houses. It also does not certify civil aircraft for military use in India. In the strategic partnership model for ‘Make in India’ where the OEM will tie up with an Indian aviation industry partner, several MSMEs will be in the chain of production, the necessity to include these issues in DDPMAS become relevant.

“REGULATORY NONCOMPLIANCE AND BEING UNSAFE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.” —HERB D KELLEHER, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN OF SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, IMMEDIATELY BEFORE A HOUSE TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE HEARING ON FAA SAFETY ENFORCEMENT

The role of Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA) is to ensure that once the Type Certificate for the aircraft/system/component/ assembly has been issued by CEMILAC, the bulk production by the industry is conforming to the engineering specifications and drawings. With the OEMs following their own laid out quality checks for conformance, the industry needs to be clear and the role of DGAQA made to ensure that the control rests with Indian regulator albeit with strict adherence to global standards. If this is not done, the ‘Make in India’ will be merely product churning agencies dictated by the standards of OEM. We need to take control fully and be accountable for our regulatory actions. These issues need deliberations during the precontract stage for bringing in independence and accountability of the Indian industry and that of regulators DGCA in civil aviation or CEMILAC and DGAQA in military aviation.

Synergy Between Civil and Military Domains

Indian military inductions and civil fleet are growing at a significant rate. With self-sufficiency in its air assets as the aim, it is important that civil and military collaboration be the mantra for their optimum utilisation and financial prudence. The following areas of collaboration of civil and military airworthiness are considered important:

  • Development of military transport aircraft and helicoptrers;
  • Military derivative of civil aircraft type;
  • Propellers and aero-engines used on both types;
  • Equipment common to both civil and military aircraft;
  • Dual role aircraft employed in civil and military aviation;
  • UAV/RPA where the airworthiness rules are in early stages of development in both civil and military domains.

The DGCA has issued draft guidelines for obtaining Unique Identification Number and operation of civil UAVs, whereas none exist for military UAVs by CEMILAC. Therefore, it is the right time to develop joint regulatory mechanisms by CEMILAC and DGCA to ensure conformity compliance in their production by the Indian industry. The military UAVs are technically superior and few rules exist for their airworthiness, but still a lot needs to be done. In the civil domain, market growth is expected to be spectacular, even becoming explosive. Many sizes (micro, small, medium and large), different types (fixed wing and rotary) and operational purpose (civil, military or dual use) will claim a market portion. Many of these will claim the controlled airspace which will pose significant challenges for their operation and safety systems on board for consideration by the industry and regulatory authorities. Thus it makes no sense considering the airworthiness and certification dealings separately for civil and military. A new collaborative scenario thus emerges as a necessity.

Civil and military airworthiness certification by DGCA and CEMILAC have clear demarcations although they share the same objectives. There is a need to constitute a joint team by these agencies to look at a joint document for areas of common interest in the ‘Make in India’ context.

CEMILAC needs to be accountable to ensure taking over the regulatory mechanism in the Strategic Partner model jointly with OEM and the latter completely under its own fold. How to achieve this needs a fuller discussion by the concerned stakeholders.

A strong legalised role of DGAQA is necessary for ensuring conformity by the Indian industry in bulk production of aviation assets to meet the global standards and certification. The industry can play a catalytic role in the process.

Several European nations have worked together to simplify and have harmonised their national military airworthiness systems. These initiatives by the European Defence Agency have produced European Military Airworthiness Regulations (EMARs) which are mainly based on European civil airworthiness systems and are under implementation. In USA, the FAA and the Department of Defence (DoD) have a collaboration agreement that allowed the creation of FAA Military Certification Office which is being successfully used for the civil derivative of military aircraft.

The Final Word

In the absence of an internationally recognised regulatory framework on collaboration of military aviation matters, control can only be exercised by the involved nations generally on a case-to-case basis on specific projects. Significant amount of discussions on establishing the airworthiness criteria are required for every project. Thus, on the industry side, it becomes difficult to standardise practices, processes and procedures. The result is extra cost in terms of time and money. India is on the verge of change in the production of military aircraft and in the MRO segment of the civil aviation industry. The role of joint regulatory mechanism of civil-military airworthiness and certification therefore, requires a fresh look.