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- A type certificate is a document that certifies the aircraft is built to all relevant regulations
- Type certificates are generally issued by aviation authorities like the FAA in the US or the EASA in Europe
- All commercial, civil and business aircraft weighing more than 12,500 lbs (5670 kg) must have a type certificate to operate according to FAA regulations
- Non-passenger carrying military aircraft do not require a type certificate, though the military does have its own similar certification process
Even for pilots, the seemingly endless amount of jargon can be overwhelming. One of these jargon terms is the type certificate, but what exactly is it?
In aviation, a type certificate is a document that effectively states that the aircraft complies with all relevant requirements for its production class. Whilst it doesn’t allow you to operate the aircraft, you cannot operate an aircraft that doesn’t have a type certificate.
Having been a pilot for most of my adult life, I’ve flown aircraft with type certificates in nearly every category, so I’m pretty confident that my experience will help me guide you through all things related to the type certificate.
What Is an FAA Type Certificate in Aviation?
A type certificate is a document stating an applicant has demonstrated compliance with all applicable requirements of an aircraft design type. The certificate alone does not authorize the operation of an aircraft.
It must also be issued an airworthiness certificate. Each type of certificate includes the type design, operating limitations, type-certificate data sheet, applicable FAA or European Union Aviation Safety compliance regulations, and any other limitations or conditions prescribed for the aircraft. The EASA-type certification includes data sheets for noise and emission compliance.
What is a Type Certificate Data Sheet?
The type certificate data sheet is part of the type certificate. It contains all the “nitty gritty” information, such as relevant regulations, operating limitations, and things like weight and balance for that particular aircraft. This forms the basis of the aircraft’s spec sheet.
Misinterpretation of type certificate data sheets’ regulatory values by aircraft manufacturers may contribute to errors in the data sheet, a fact that often leads to regulatory issues later on down the line.
At present, it is the Code of Federal Regulations that governs type certificate data sheets.
How Long Does a Type Certificate Last for?
An FAA-type certificate is effective until revoked, suspended, surrendered. This can mean it remains unexpired for decades, or potentially even centuries. In some cases, however, particularly for more complex designs, the FAA can establish a termination date, on which, the type certificate becomes invalid.
Much like the FAA's type certificate, an EASA certificate is effective for an unlimited duration. Similarly, the EASA has the power to revoke or suspend a type certificate if an aircraft is deemed unsafe or no longer complies with relevant regulations.
Type Certificate Transfer
For various reasons, transferring a type certificate from one holder to another is sometimes necessary. Reasons include such things as the sale of a certificate transfer design or bankruptcy, or the sale of an enterprise.
EASA transfer of a type certificate may be made only to a legal or natural person able to undertake the obligation and has demonstrated the ability to qualify under the criteria. That means the new type certificate holder must have the characteristics required before the transition.
The FAA approach is more pragmatic. Other than some caveats for the State of Design, the FAA doesn’t really have any particular requirements for the person wanting to be a new type certificate holder.
It is a piece of paper without influence on flight safety until it becomes a certificate of airworthiness for a particular aircraft.
Most often, type certificate transfers are done between entities in regards to an older certificate. This is often because a new manufacturer wants to rebuild a classic aircraft that’s previously been discontinued. Even if out of production, a new type certificate holder must show their willingness to take responsibility for the type’s airworthiness. This includes having any/all production facilities available.
Even if the holder of a type certificate allows another entity to take the reins on this, or allows another entity to make modifications (such as an improved aircraft engine), the ultimate regulatory responsibility still falls to them.
When a type certificate holder can no longer cope with the responsibilities or 'disappears,' it is called an 'orphan' aircraft. The occurrence is not uncommon, particularly for small aeronautical enterprises.
Serious problems may arise for the relevant aircraft that remain 'orphans.' There are two possible scenarios.
- The authority replaces the type certificate holder responsible for continued airworthiness. It will likely happen when General Aviation aircraft request less task engagement. The replacement allows for maintaining obligations toward the concerned type of aircraft imported by the states' national authorities.
- The authority cannot or does not intend to assume the type certificate holder's responsibilities. Under those circumstances, the type certificate is suspended pending the application of a new holder. The type certificate can also be revoked. The revocation or suspension of the type certificate has similar consequences on the issued certificate of airworthiness for the aircraft if it is still operating.
For the EASA, an aircraft becomes an 'orphan' aircraft when the legal person holding the type certificate ceases to exist. Upon this, the type certificate is automatically rendered invalid as no one can comply with the type certificate holder's responsibilities.
A type certificate can also be orphaned if the holder does not, or refuses to, comply with their regulatory obligations. This often occurs when the type certificate holder loses or fails to comply with their Design Organization Approval.
The type certificate also becomes orphaned if the holder surrenders it, as this is in effect them surrendering the responsibility of the design.
During the production life of most aircraft, major and minor changes are typically introduced to meet various operators’ demands. If these changes are made after type certification, the holder must differentiate the type design in 'derivative' aircraft.
Examples of changes include:
- A different fuselage length.
- Replacement of an engine type.
- A different maximum takeoff weight.
The design of a derivative prototype or changes to the primary product may come about a few years after the type certification. There may be substantial changes in the applicable requirements. It must be established whether to certify the changes as an amendment to the type certificate or if a new type certificate application is needed.
The final decision is left to the authority. Applicants usually prefer an amended type certificate rather than applying for a new one that requires starting over with the most recent certification basis.
Generally, the certification of a type design change needs to comply with requirements that apply at the new application date. Adopting an earlier amendment may be possible depending on the changes' significance.
The criteria for significant changes are:
- The principles of construction or the general configuration are not retained.
- The assumptions used for certifying the changed product are no longer valid.
An amendment may not be needed in the event that:
- The regulatory agency finds the changes don’t significantly alter the aircraft’s base design.
- The change does not affect the aircraft’s system, components and/or equipment.
- The change doesn’t affect the aircraft’s safety or may be impractical for the pilot
Adopting earlier requirements for new type certification is known as 'grandfather rights.' Regarding the basis of the certificate, the same criteria used for the primary product apply.
If the Administrator or Agency finds the regulations effective on the application date do not provide adequate standards due to an unusual or novel design feature, the applicant has to comply with special conditions and amendments to them.
The safety level has to be equal to the regulations established and effective on the application date for the change.
In many ways, the approval process for a grandfathered type certificate is similar to a complete type certificate because the change may require revisions to the Aircraft Flight Manual, the type certificate data sheet, or Federal Aviation Regulation compliance.
For transport category airplanes, requirements for support of safety improvements or continued airworthiness may include:
- Making necessary documentation available to persons affected.
- Developing Instructions for Continued Airworthiness Revisions.
- Developing design changes.
- Performing assessments.
Instructions for Continued Airworthiness address requirements for:
- Normal Category Rotorcraft
- Transport Category Rotorcraft
- Manned free balloons
- Aircraft engines
- Turbine Engine-Powered Airplanes
Types of Airworthiness Certificates
There are two FAA airworthiness certificate classifications. They are the Standard Airworthiness Certificate and the Special Airworthiness Certificate.
Standard Airworthiness Certificate
A standard airworthiness certificate is the official FAA authorization that allows type-certificated aircraft in the following categories to operate.
- Manned free balloons
- Special Classes
A standard airworthiness certificate remains valid if it meets the approved type design of the aircraft, it is in safe operating condition, and alterations and maintenance are performed per the Code of Federal Regulations.
Special Airworthiness Certificate
An FAA special airworthiness certificate is an authorization to operate aircraft in U.S. airspace in the following categories:
- Multiple Provisional
- Special Flight Permit
Primary aircraft are flown for personal use and pleasure. Restricted aircraft include:
- Aerial advertising
- Aerial surveying
- Forest and wildlife conservation
- Patrolling (pipelines, power lines)
- Weather Control
- Other Administrator specified operations
Experimental aircraft deal with
- Air racing
- Crew training
- Market surveys
- Operating light-sport aircraft
- Operating amateur-built aircraft
- Operating kit-built aircraft
- Showing compliance with regulations
- Research and development
- Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Light-sport aircraft do not include gyroplanes, kit-built, or transitioning ultralight vehicles. Limited aircraft have a 'limited' type certificate. Some aircraft have multiple airworthiness certificates. Provisional aircraft have type certificates with operating limitations or special operations. An aircraft capable of safe flight receives a special flight permit.
The Provisional Type Certificate
A type certificate is issued when a manufacturer complies with the applicable certificate requirements. An aircraft manufacturer can apply for a provisional type certificate before the full type certificate is issued.
A provisional type certificate is an approval for a design with limits on time and operation that allows training to begin before flying passengers and making some special-purpose operations in the final certification stages.
The provisional type certificate allows operation with some systems disabled, such as pressurization, autopilot, and ice protection, with consequential certification limitations. A manufacturer has to demonstrate flight is safe with those systems disabled.
Production of Products, Appliances, and Parts
A type certificate holder, a supplemental certificate holder, or an individual with the right to benefit from a type certificate under a licensing agreement may apply for a production certificate.
A production certificate holder has privileges specified in the Federal Aviation Regulations and is eligible to have qualified employees designated as manufacturing inspection representatives. The production certificate holder may be authorized to represent the Administrator as a representative of Organizational Designated Airworthiness.
Privileges of a production certificate holder include:
- Obtaining an aircraft worthiness certificate without further showing except for the Administrator can inspect for the aircraft's type design conformity.
- Obtaining approval for installation of other products on type-certified aircraft
The European Aviation Safety Agency, Joint Aviation Authorities, and Production Organizations Approval tend to release a manufacturer from the strict control of an Administrator. To obtain the privileges, a manufacturer has to show they have established a quality control system for the product they requested a production certificate and can maintain it to ensure each article meets the design provisions of the certificate.
Quality Control System Components
- A list of data is submitted to the Administrator that describes the inspection and testing procedures needed to ensure each produced article conforms to the type design and is in safe operating condition. The list includes:
- A statement that describes the delegated authority and responsibilities of the quality control organization - A chart that indicates the quality control organization's relationship to management and other organizational components is required. It indicates the responsibility and chain of authority within the organization.
- A description of assemblies and parts produced by manufacturer's suppliers, purchased items, and raw materials inspection procedures - The description must include methods to ensure acceptable qualities of assemblies and components that cannot be entirely inspected for quality and conformity when delivered to the primary manufacturer's plant.
- A description of production inspection methods of complete assemblies and parts includes identifying special manufacturing processes, controlling the process, final testing procedures for the product, a copy of an aircraft manufacturer's flight test procedure, and a check-off list
- An outline of the review system for materials includes the procedure for reviewing board decisions and disposing of rejected parts.
- An outline of the system used to inform company inspectors of current changes in quality control procedures, specifications, and engineering drawings
- A chart or list of the type of inspection stations and their location
A relevant FAA form is submitted to the competent Manufacturing Inspection Office manager in the directorate where the principal manufacturing facility is located. Following a preliminary audit, a team is chosen to make evaluations. The FAA provides documents for the process.
FAA Production Flight Tests
Production flight tests are periodically conducted at the production certificate holder's facility to ensure compliance with parameters specified in the type certificate data regarding equipment operations, operation qualities, flight characteristics, performance, etc.
Production Certificate Holder's Responsibilities
The production certificate holder is responsible for maintaining the Quality Control System that conforms to the procedure and data approved for the production certificate and for determining whether each product submitted for approval or airworthiness conforms to the type certificate or supplemental type certificate and is in safe operating condition.
Supplemental Type Certification
Any alterations, omissions, or additions to an aircraft's engines, airframe, built-in equipment, or layout initiated by anyone other than the type certificate holder need a supplemental type certificate (STC).
The scope of the supplemental certificate may be broad or narrow. It may include minor modifications to installed instruments or passenger cabin items, or more substantial modifications such as a change of role (eg. passenger flying to cargo etc.)
More often than not, an STC is granted in the case where a third party company who doesn’t own the type certificate, wants to make the alterations without spending all the money to get a new type certification. As a general rule, these companies take an out of production aircraft with an abundance of used models for sale on the secondary market, thereby reducing their costs further.
Before any supplemental-type certificates are issued, regulatory agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration will follow procedures similar to new variant-type certificates, particularly flight testing. That being said, the overall procedures are not as rigorous in some regards on account of the pre-existing type certificate.
Regardless of size, age or economic conditions, the type certificate holder remains responsible for the approved aircraft design's continued integrity. Should an issue arise, it is the certificate holder’s responsibility to correct the action and ensure the fleet remains safe and makes these corrections.
If the type certificate is transferred to another holder or the holder is no longer capable, a regulatory authority takes appropriate action following national legislation. When a certificate is transferred to another holder, the new holder must be capable of fulfilling the type certificate holder responsibilities that follow Airworthiness Directives.
They must provide technical support to keep the design current with applicable airworthiness requirements, even after the aircraft type production has ceased. Many of the out-of-production aircraft continue to be useful.
The same rules bind supplemental-type certificates. If a holder decides to stop supporting an aircraft type and does not transfer the type certificate holder's responsibilities, the type certificate is returned to the authority that issued it. The remaining aircraft fleet may be grounded until further decisions about the continuing airworthiness of the registered aircraft are
What Is a Type Rating?
A type rating is a pilot certificate add-on that allows operating aircraft that require it. A type rating is specific to a particular aircraft make and model. The material a pilot learns to obtain a type rating is mainly concerned with operating limitations, procedures, and aircraft systems.
Not all aircraft require a type rating. The three considerations for issuing a pilot certificate are category, class, and type rating. A pilot must have all three to fly some planes and may need only the right category and class ratings for others. Typically, a type rating is necessary to operate turbojet-powered or large airplanes—the FAA definition of a large aircraft weighs over 12,500 pounds.
Is a Type Rating Necessary?
Because modern planes are so fast-moving and complex, type ratings are necessary. An enormous amount of training is needed to operate a turbine aircraft safely. The crew must memorize the procedures and systems.
A type rating is necessary to train pilots for the peculiarities of particular aircraft. Every plane has slightly different autopilot systems and avionics. Pilots cannot learn these things in flight. Things in a turbine aircraft move too quickly to allow pilots time to get lost in the Flight Management System menu or search for the correct button.
If an emergency occurs, the results could be disastrous. A type rating provides hands-on experience for pilots with the aircraft they will be flying. There are three components to type rating - ground school, flying feature, and checkride.
During the ground school component, the pilot learns the ins and outs of a plane and its systems. The flying component is typically done in a full-motion simulator that provides training in normal, abnormal, and emergency procedures. After passing the checkride, the pilot is issued the type rating.
What Aircraft Require Type Ratings?
Generally, the FAA requires a type rating for those acting as the pilot-in-command for all aircraft over 12,500 pounds and turbine aircraft. The International Civil Aviation Organization requires a type rating for aircraft having two or more pilots.
Beyond what the FAA and government authorities dictate, insurance companies may require type-specific training before operating new aircraft as the pilot-in-command. All airlines require new hires to pass a checklist of the company's equipment and procedures before they fly to meet Federal Aviation Regulations.
Some aircraft have similar designs to cover more than one model. The Boeing 757 and 767 designs are examples of two similar planes. An airline can train the crew with one type rating that saves money and makes scheduling easier.
What Is the Difference Between Type, Class, and Category?
When pilots first start, it isn't easy to differentiate between class, type, and category. The problem is partially because the definitions do not initially apply to them. Further into their careers, they are exposed to various aircraft, and the differences make sense.
Type Rating of an Aircraft
A type rating requires pilots to receive additional training before flying specific aircraft. The FAA deems the plane's operation is so complicated that training beyond initial pilot training is required.
Pilots need to know three overarching rules regarding the type ratings that further complicate matters.
- All turbojets require a type rating.
- Non-turbojets only have a separate rating once they weigh more than 12,500 pounds.
- Most helicopters do not have type ratings because they do not weigh more than 12,500 pounds.
Type ratings are placed on a pilot's FAA license. The designated type and name of the aircraft are different.
Class of an Aircraft
The classes most pilots deal with are - sea, land, single-engine, and multi-engine. Some classifications, such as multi-engine sea airplanes, are intriguing.
Category of an Aircraft
The category is the overreaching classification of an aircraft. Examples include:
- Lighter than air (airships and balloons)
- Powered lift
- Powered parachute (different than powered paragliders)
- Weight-shift control aircraft (ultralight trikes and hang gliders)
Do Type Ratings Expire?
Type ratings do not last forever. They are usually valid for a specific time, typically one year after a pilot passes the first competency check on an aircraft. A type rating can be renewed with a visit to an FAA-approved flight simulator.
Every commercial pilot, regardless of age or flying hours, must take an annual License Proficiency Check to prove they have the skills to handle the aircraft they are type rated on.
Whilst basic flight principles remain the same across all aircraft, aircraft-specific systems and procedures take effort and time to learn. Type ratings effectively pair with a type certificate to ensure a pilot knows their aircraft’s specific systems and procedures well enough to handle the aircraft safely.
Do Military Aircraft Have Type Certificates?
Within the United States, the FAA does not have the authority to certify most types of military-registered aircraft. The military can, however, accept an FAA-type certificate or run certification agencies of their own.
That being said, all military transport aircraft must obtain an FAA type certificate in order to transport passengers to and from the United States.