FAA Certification 101
In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, most of the early civilian operations were approving their NVG lighting modifications under the field approval process. The FAA had no published guidance or regulations concerning NVG equipment or operations so the modifications were approved as “Alternate Lighting Systems.” Even some of the early STC certifications for NVG lighting modifications were referred to as “Alternate Lighting Systems.” The aviation industry and the FAA were both trying to promote safety and increased mission capabilities through standards in these early NVG lighting applications but were limited by the lack of industry wide standards and regulations. What could be approved in one part of the country, for example, might not be acceptable in another.
The early civilian users of NVG in aircraft were law enforcement and para-military organizations. These groups could use the “Public Use” category when actually performing NVG operations. As the use of NVG began to extend to air medical and other areas, the FAA recognized the need for industry wide regulations and standards for safe NVG operations and supporting airborne equipment. These regulations were published in the early 2000’s but were not uniformly implemented until the middle to late 2000’s. During this transition period, the use of NVG expanded greatly. Emergency medical aircraft were being forced into NVG operations by industry imposed contract requirements and many law enforcement agencies were prohibited from using the “Public Use” operations by insurance requirements or state laws. These organizations had steadily been converting to FAA certified NVG operations.
On April 9, 2011 the FAA issued N8900.152 entitled "Special Emphasis Inspection of Night Vision Imaging System Lighting Installations." The document is used as guidance by FAA personnel in the inspection of NVG compatible aircraft. Elements of the new standard that have potentially significant implications on how NVG certification is accomplished are:
- STC is required for NVIS installation approval
- Daylight readability of all equipment is required - FAA inspectors now have guidance to inspect all NVIS installations for readability in bright daylight conditions with evaluation to be made from various viewing angles to check for glare, reflections, and brightness. Special attention is given to electronically displayed information on equipment like EFIS, MFD’s, electronic engine displays and other digital electronic displays.
- Colors must be easily recognizable and adhere closely to advisory colors specified for caution panels, switch legends, and other advisory lights.
- Configuration control must be maintained as defined by the NVIS STC ICA (Instructions for Continued Airworthiness) installation drawings. Any changes to the lighting or lighting locations can affect the airworthiness of the NVIS installation whether they are minor or major deviations. Any changes made to the configuration after installation of the STC must be evaluated and approved.
- All documentation for NVIS certified aircraft will be reviewed including STC related documents like ICA’s, Flight Manual Supplements, applicable service bulletins, operations documentation for the operator and NVG goggle inspection and certification records.
The robust inspection and enforcement of these standards has severely challenged the NVIS lighting industry as a whole. Companies must react to more rigorous standards while meeting the immediate needs of NVG operators, largely first responders, who provide vital services to our communities. These first responders cannot be denied the use of one of their most important tools and have aircraft grounded while the industry tries to catch up. Fortunately, Aero Dynamix saw this situation coming. We have been developing more sophisticated NVIS lighting solutions and advocating more rigorous safety standards for years.
Every civil aircraft modified by Aero Dynamix is fully certified and STC’d by the FAA, thus meeting or exceeding all regulatory guidance standards.