Airworthiness Standards – Definition of Airworthiness, Important FAA Provisions and Certifications

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: August 08, 2010
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Airworthiness is defined by the JSP553 Military Airworthiness Regulations (2006) Edition 1 Change 5 as:

“The ability of an aircraft or other airborne equipment or system to operate without significant hazard to aircrew, ground crew, passengers (where relevant) or to the general public over which such airborne systems are flown.”

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the United States oversees the enforcement of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that govern the aviation industry. The different sections of the FARs, also called parts, include the Airworthiness Standards governing all aspects of an aircraft’s design, technology and maintenance.

An aircraft must always operate within the limits laid down in the standards – any aircraft which exceeds those limits will be judged un-airworthy and have its certification revoked. While in service, an aircraft must be maintained to specific standards to remain airworthy. Failure to adhere to the airworthiness standards can result in adverse incidents or accidents.

Brief Overview of Important Airworthiness Standards
Below is a brief overview of some of the most important Airworthiness Standards issued by the FAA:

Title Description
Part 23 – Airworthiness Standards: Normal, Utility, Acrobatic and Commuter Airplanes This part describes the standards required for the issuance and change of type certificate for airplanes in the normal, utility, aerobatic, and commuter categories.
  • The Maximum Takeoff Weight of an airplane in the normal, utility or acrobatic category cannot exceed 12,500 lb.
  • The Maximum Takeoff Weight of an airplane in the commuter category cannot exceed 19,000 lb.
The Cessna 177, Cirrus SR20 and Piper PA-34 Seneca are well-known airplanes types that come under this category.
Part 25 – Airworthiness Standards: Transport Category Airplanes This Part covers transport category planes such as:
  • Jets with 10 or more seats or a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) greater than 12,500 pounds (5,670 kg); or
  • Propeller-driven airplanes with greater than 19 seats or a MTOW greater than 19,000 pounds (8,618 kg).
The Boeing 737 and later types, and Airbus A300 series, are well-known airplane types that were certificated to FAR Part 25.
Part 27 – Airworthiness Standards: Normal Category Rotorcraft

Part 27 contains airworthiness standards for rotorcraft in the normal category. Rotorcraft up to 7,000 lb Maximum Takeoff Weight and 9 or fewer passengers are type certified in this Part.

Examples of rotorcraft certified in this Part are the Schweizer 300 and the Bell 429.

Part 29 – Airworthiness Standards: Transport Category Rotorcraft This Part contains airworthiness standards for rotorcraft in the transport category. Rotorcraft with more than 20,000 lb Maximum Takeoff Weight and 10 or more passengers must be certified to Category A standards.

An example of rotorcraft certified in this Part is the Sikorsky S-92.

Airworthiness Certification

An airworthiness certificate is an FAA document which grants authorization to operate an aircraft in flight. A registered owner or owner's agent of an aircraft may apply for an airworthiness certificate. Only FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors and authorized Representatives of the Administrator (i.e. Designees), as defined in 14 CFR Part 183, "Representatives of the Administrator", are authorized to issue an FAA airworthiness certificate.

There are two different classifications of FAA airworthiness certificates:

  • Standard Airworthiness Certificate
  • Special Airworthiness Certificate.

The FAA can revoke an existing airworthiness certificate in any category (as set out it in 14 CFR section 21.181), if the aircraft no longer meets its approved design and/or is not in an airworthy condition.
Standard Airworthiness Certificate

A standard airworthiness certificate (FAA form 8100-2 displayed in the aircraft) is the FAA's official authorization allowing for the operation of type certificated aircraft in the following categories:

  • Normal
  • Utility
  • Acrobatic
  • Commuter
  • Transport
  • Manned free balloons
  • Special classes

A standard airworthiness certificate remains valid as long as the aircraft meets its approved type design, is in a condition for safe operation and maintenance, preventative maintenance, and alterations are performed in accordance with 14 CFR parts 21, 43, and 91.

Special Airworthiness Certificate

The FAA special airworthiness certificate (FAA Form 8130-7) is an FAA authorization to operate an aircraft in the US airspace in one or more of the following categories:

Category Purpose Title 14 CFR Section
Primary Aircraft flown for pleasure and personal use 21.24
Restricted Aircraft with a "restricted" category type certificate, including:
  • Agricultural
  • Forest and wildlife conservation
  • Aerial surveying
  • Patrolling (pipelines, power lines)
  • Weather control
  • Aerial advertising
  • Other operations specified by the Administrator
Multiple Multiple airworthiness certificates 21.187
Limited Aircraft with a "limited" category type certificate 21.189
Light-Sport Operate a light-sport aircraft, other than a gyroplane, kit-built, or transitioning ultralight like vehicle 21.190
  • Research and development
  • Showing compliance with regulations
  • Crew training
  • Exhibition
  • Air racing
  • Market surveys
  • Operating amateur-built aircraft
  • Operating kit-built aircraft
  • Operating light-sport aircraft
  • Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)
Special Flight Permit Special-purpose flight of an aircraft that is capable of safe flight 21.197
Provisional Aircraft with a "provisional" category type certificate for special operations and operating limitations Part 21 subpart C
Part 21 subpart I
Section 91.317


Condition for Safe Operation

The phrase, In a condition for safe operation, is an initial determination by an FAA inspector or authorized Representative of the Administrator that the overall condition of an aircraft is conducive to safe operations. This refers to the condition of the aircraft relative to wear and deterioration, e.g., skin corrosion, window delamination/crazing, fluid leaks, tire wear, and so on.

The FAA inspector or authorized Representative of the Administrator will make an initial determination as to the overall condition of the aircraft.  The aircraft items evaluated depend on information such as aircraft make, model, age, type, completeness of maintenance records of the aircraft, and the overall condition of the aircraft.

Obtaining Airworthiness Certification

The FAA requires several basic steps to obtain an airworthiness certificate in either the Standard or Special class.

The FAA may issue an applicant an airworthiness certificate when:

  • Registered owner or operator/agent registers aircraft,
  • Applicant submits application to the local FAA office, and
  • FAA determines the aircraft is eligible and in a condition for safe operation

Additional Resources
-    Read the following Airworthiness Standards in full: Part 23, Part 25, Part 27 and Part 29
-    Want more aviation standards? Then check out ComplianceOnline’s Aerospace Standards & Quality Manuals store.

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