Honda Aircraft announced that it received provisional certification for the HA-420 HondaJet today from the FAA. Full certification is expected "in the next few months," according to the company, "following the completion of final testing and approval by the FAA." Provisional certification allows an aircraft manufacturer to keep the production line moving, with final-phase manufacturing, including completion activity, continuing on customer aircraft so they can be delivered on schedule.
"Honda Aircraft has completed nearly all of the testing and reports required by the FAA," said company president and CEO Michimasa Fujino, "and we are very close to achieving final type certification for the world's most advanced light jet. Provisional type certification for the HondaJet is a tremendous milestone for the program, and we are pleased to reach this significant step toward customer deliveries and entry into service."
Four design-conforming flight-test HondaJets have logged more than 2,500 flight hours. Twelve HondaJets are on the final assembly line at Honda Aircraft's Greensboro, N.C. factory and another five "are currently in the production flow," according to the company. Deliveries are slated to begin following full FAA type certification.
"It is a milestone for a first-time aircraft manufacturer to receive its first type certificate," said Melvin Taylor, manager of the FAA's Atlanta Aircraft Certification Office. "This issuance speaks well to the hard work put forward by all the Honda and FAA staff working in a collaborative manner."
The composite-fuselage, twin-engine HondaJet features a unique over-the-wing engine mount configuration and is powered by the recently FAA-certified GE Honda HF120 turbofan. Avionics are a three-display, touchscreen-controlled Garmin G3000 system. Performance numbers include 420-knot maximum cruise speed, four-occupant NBAA IFR range of 1,180 nm and 43,000-foot maximum cruise altitude. The engine mounting arrangement makes available space for a fully enclosed lavatory and seating for up to seven occupants.
Did the unauthorized leaking of information from the Germanwings A320 cockpit voice recorder (CVR) precipitate a French prosecutor's decision to publicly accuse copilot Andreas Lubitz of deliberately crashing the aircraft into the French Alps on March 24, killing himself and 149 others on board? Pilot unions clearly think it did and they are understandably concerned that a New York Times report based on a comments by an unidentified French military official might have undermined the accident investigation by France's BEA agency.
On March 25, the BEA held a press conference in Paris to update reporters on the investigation. BEA director Remi Jouty confirmed that despite damage to the CVR casing the agency recovered an audio recording. However, he stressed that it was far too early to offer possible explanations for what was then considered an accident, implying that it could take several days before the agency could confirm any further details of the CVR recording. The press conference started almost an hour late, at around 12 noon local time. Barely 12 hours later, the New York Times reported the unidentified military official's revelation that the captain of Germanwings Flight 9525 had been locked out of the cockpit. First thing on the morning of March 25, French prosecutor Brice Robin signaled the start of criminal proceedings. Later the same morning, Robin told reporters at a press conference in Marseille that Lubitz deliberately caused the crash by changing the altitude setting in the A320's flight management system.
So in less than 24 hours, the official position on the incident accelerated from something along the lines of "be patient, it's going to take some time for us to figure this out" to "case closed." The BEA has yet to hold a follow-up briefing on the investigation and it fell to the European Cockpit Association to remind the world that investigators have yet to find the aircraft's flight data recorder, analysis of which could prove vital to confirming the facts.
Tragically, it seems all too likely that the French prosecutor's assessment of the situation will prove correct. But professional pilots are understandably concerned that a mix of responsible and irresponsible reporting by the media, and cluttered communications on the part of officials, derailed long-established investigation processes and protocols.
Understandably, the European air transport industry has been stunned by the deeply shocking realization that an airline could be so vulnerable to the destructive action of one of its own colleagues. Regardless of the final outcome of the investigation and eventual criminal proceedings, the incident has already revealed profound confusion on two key points: the rules governing access to the cockpit and requirements for psychological evaluation of professional pilots.
Less than 24 hours after insisting that its cockpit access rule mirrored that of its U.S. counterpart (which already required two crewmembers in the cockpit at any time), the European Aviation Safety Agency recommended that airlines under its jurisdiction adopt the U.S. standard (effectively acknowledging that they had differed). Several airlines had already made the change the previous day, adding to the impression of EASA's less-than-total command of the situation.
Further confusion ensued when the media quizzed the airline industry about the extent to which it monitors the mental health of pilots. Lufthansa acknowledged that it would have psychologically assessed Lubitz before selecting him for its flight training academy in Bremen, but the extent to which he subsequently underwent evaluation remains in question. More generally, the circumstances have left a strong impression that insofar as biannual Class 1 medical checks include psychological assessment, their effectiveness largely depends on how probing individual doctors choose to be and how honestly pilots answer questions about their mental health in the almost-certain knowledge that it could end their careers.
Airline customers have a right to know that the tragedy of the destruction of Germanwings Flight 9525 will be subject to thorough and impartial investigation, and that, as necessary, safety procedures will improve. Sadly, the largely reactive, and at times chaotic, way the industry and its regulators have handled the process so far will not inspire public confidence.
If there's one thing we've learned from aviation accident history, it's that new regulations almost always follow when an unusual accident or string of events occurs. The tragic Germanwings accident, where one of the pilots apparently locked the other out of the cockpit then flew into the ground, will lead to new regulations, and not just having to do with requiring two crewmembers in the cockpit at all times. The new regulations will lead to eliminating privacy of medical records.
News coverage from the Germanwings accident–albeit some of which has not being officially confirmed–suggests that the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had a medical problem that he may not have fully disclosed to his employer. Allegedly, the medical issue was serious enough as to cast doubt on whether he should have been allowed to continue flying commercially.
The problem here is that it appears that there was no adequate mechanism for that medical information to be shared with the airline or German medical examination and certification authorities. In the U.S., it is against FAA regulations not to reveal any disqualifying medical issue. But if a pilot is diagnosed with a serious medical problem by a doctor who isn't the certifying Aviation Medical Examiner (AME), and if the pilot essentially lies and doesn't disclose that information, then that pilot could get away with flying in a medically unsafe condition. The system relies a great deal on trust that the pilot will not lie on the application for the medical certificate. There is just one case where it would be difficult for the pilot to conceal information, and that is a record of driving violations, which the FAA is allowed to check. But for medical conditions that the pilot chooses not to disclose, there is no mechanism for sharing that information with the FAA.
At least, not yet.
Here's where things get sticky.
Medical technology is advancing rapidly and there is a great push for the medical community to switch to electronic medical records (EMR) systems. These systems supposedly will improve efficiency for doctors, nurses, hospitals, patients and insurance providers. In a perfect world, EMR could prevent dispensing the wrong medicine or operating on the wrong body part. Someday, patients will not have to fill out lengthy forms for every doctor that they visit because that information will be available electronically.
We have seen from past accidents that either regulators or legislators push for new regulations to prevent future similar issues from causing the same accident. The February 2009 Colgan Air accident near Buffalo, N.Y., is an example. Following that accident, families of the victims pushed legislators to force the FAA to require airlines to employ only pilots with airline transport pilot (ATP) certificates. We know that these new rules would not have prevented that accident because the pilots were not below the new rule's thresholds. In any case, there is a clear precedent for legislators to take action when they perceive that the FAA isn't doing what they feel is necessary.
I'm going to step out on a limb here and predict that someone-either the FAA or legislators-is going to push for new regulations allowing the FAA to tap pilots' EMR data to see whether pilots are being honest on their medical certificate applications. I'm willing to bet that this is happening now, but we just haven't been privy to these discussions.
Whether this is a good idea or not will not affect the push to make this happen. The fact that it would be a gross invasion of privacy will not affect those who think this is a good idea. We know from accident history that even full disclosure within the current system doesn't always weed out the occasional pilot who collapses and sometimes even dies while in flight, but that will not stop efforts to tie EMR to aviation medical certification.
Technology is a boon to mankind, but it also contains the seeds of destruction of privacy. We've given up privacy in our use of social media and computers in general, but are we willing to allow the government to dig into our medical records as a means of potential accident prevention?
Don't be surprised when this happens. It's just a matter of time.
Reacting to Tuesday's crash of Germanwings flight 9525, the European Aviation Safety Agency today issued a temporary recommendation for airlines to ensure that at least two crewmembers, including at least one qualified pilot, remain in the cockpit at all times during flight operations. EASA added that airlines should "re-assess" the safety and security risks associated with a flight crew leaving the cockpit due to operational or physiological needs.
"The agency makes this recommendation based on the information currently available following the dramatic accident of the Germanwings flight 4U9525, and pending the outcome of the technical investigation conducted by the French Bureau d'Enquetes et d'Analyses (BEA)," it said in a statement issued Friday. "This recommendation may be reviewed in the light of any new information concerning the accident."
An EASA spokesman told AIN on Wednesday that European rules require both pilots to stay in their respective seats unless one develops a physiological need to leave the cockpit or wants to get up to fix or tidy something on the flight deck. "There is no such thing as a requirement like ‘always have two people in the cockpit,'" he said. He asserted, however, that the European rule does not differ from that in force in the U.S.-a point that seemed far from clear to several European airlines now moving to change their own procedures.
Indeed, both European and U.S. rules require operators to follow a procedure to monitor cockpit access. In Europe, however, one measure could involve use of a closed-circuit TV display visible from the pilots' seats, said the spokesman. If an airline deems CCTV too expensive, for example, it can opt for an alternate means of compliance, he added. He specifically cited Ryanair's procedure, which, in fact, requires a cabin crewmember to enter the cockpit when one pilot leaves it. The flight attendant would then monitor admittance via the door's spyhole.
Now, EASA appears intent to fall in line with U.S. regulations, under which airlines must develop FAA-approved procedures that include a requirement that, when one of the pilots exits the cockpit for any reason, another "qualified" crewmember must lock the door and remain on the flight deck until the pilot returns to his or her station.
Just before EASA issued its recommendation on March 27, Germanwings parent Lufthansa Group, which also includes Swiss and Austrian airlines, on Friday said it would follow the procedure already required by U.S. regulators. The move reverses the statement by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr at a March 26 press conference, when he said the company saw no reason to change its policy of allowing a pilot to remain alone in the cockpit. On the same day, Air France also introduced the requirement for two crew members in the cockpit. On March 26, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Virgin Atlantic, Monarch, EasyJet, Air Berlin and Emirates all announced plans to adopt the requirement for a second crew member (such as a flight attendant) to enter the cockpit in the event that a pilot needs to leave it during a flight. Austrian and Canadian civil aviation authorities said they would make this a requirement for all its operators, and UK officials also urged airlines to review their policies.