Airworthiness Explained

Aircraft · 6 min read · Jul 26, 2022

Airworthiness is the ability of an airplane and its airborne equipment or systems to operate in flight and on the ground without posing a substantial threat to the flight crew, ground crew, passengers, or foreign entities.

According to ICAO Annex 8, it is defined as “the condition of an airplane, powerplant, propeller, or component when it complies with its authorized specification and is in a safe condition of operation.” Furthermore, an airplane must be flown within the parameters outlined in the Flight Manual; if any of these parameters are breached, the airplane’s airworthiness may be jeopardized. An airplane must also be maintained in accordance with its authorized maintenance manual to maintain its safety while in operation; this is known as “Continuing Airworthiness.”

What is Airworthiness Certification?

The Aircraft Certification Service of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employs more than 1,300 engineers, scientists, inspectors, test pilots, and other specialists. Almost all civil aviation equipment used in the United States, including large and small aircraft, helicopters, engines, propellers, and supplies, must be designed, manufactured, certified as airworthy, and subject to continuous airworthiness procedures. To maintain and enhance the safety of international air travel, the FAA works with the International Civil Aviation Organization and other civil aviation bodies.

The Certification Process

The FAA reviews any proposed designs and the procedures that will be used to demonstrate that these designs and the entire airplane complies with FAA issued minimum standards as part of any certification effort. There are ground tests and flight tests to ensure the aircraft operates safely; evaluation of the aircraft’s operational readiness for induction into service; and necessary servicing to assist other civil aviation authorities in approving the airplane’s importation.

Data Requirements to Support Airworthiness Determination

All fixed-wing and rotary-wing aerial vehicle systems, whether manned or unmanned, must meet the airworthiness authorities certification requirements set out in MIL-HDBK-516 in order to be considered airworthy. It serves as a fundamental reference that the project leader, chief engineer, and suppliers may utilize to specify the basis for the safety certification of their aircraft or other airborne equipment.

A ground staff member standing by the aircraft which is ready to be pushed to the runway.

What is an ODA?

According to federal law, the FAA has the authority to delegate some tasks to a competent person or group for completion. In recent consecutive Acts, Congress mandated the FAA to simplify certification, including more authority for Organization Designation Authorizations (ODAs). The FAA has never allowed companies to self-regulate or self-certify their aircraft. Delegation expands the technical knowledge dedicated to ensuring an aircraft meets FAA requirements by extending the complexity of the FAA certification process to additional authorized specialists under the FAA’s close supervision.

Members of the Organization Designation Authorizations (ODA) unit may be permitted to issue airworthiness certificates. The process for issuing these certifications must adhere to FAA guidelines, which include a review of the aircraft certification data and an examination of the aircraft. According to FAA Regulations 8130.2, ODA unit members must assess the airplane and record the findings of the assessment before awarding a normal or special airworthiness certificate, or a special flying permit. The ODA unit must have formal FAA authorization before issuing an experimental certificate or special flight permit. The ODA unit must provide the certification documentation to the FAA after issuing the certificate.

When is airworthiness certification not valid?

Defects, failures and threats

A flaw and improper crew responses to a malfunction might significantly affect safety and, if the flaws weren’t fixed or were only partially fixed, could subsequently lead to severe consequences. In these situations, an inquiry ought to examine the crew’s reactions in addition to the fundamental airworthiness problems. However, once abnormalities happen, the flight crew retrieves an aircraft safely rather frequently. The UK Military Aviation Authority (MAA) Handbooks for Structural Integrity, Systems Integrity, and Propulsion Integrity were used to compile the causative variables listed below. This is a lengthy list of potential issues or significant hazard that might compromise an aircraft’s ability to fly. Some are caused by physical processes, such as overburden and tiredness, while others are due to human factors and outdated technology.

  1. Operation outside of certificated parameters, such as those established for flying in icy or snowy conditions;
  2. Overload
  3. Deterioration of a component as a result of corrosion, wear, fretting, fatigue, or creep, depending on the system or component
  4. Environmental harm and accidental harm (ED)
  5. Human factors and procedural (design, production, maintenance, or supply) errors
  6. Poor or insufficient upkeep.
  7. Maintenance mistakes that may cause a defect to become apparent years after the mistake occurred.
  8. Aging elements
  9. Insufficient regulation of the operator’s methods and policies, including their operation, upkeep, and training.
  10. Flaws in the procedure that resulted in the Supplemental Type Certificate being issued.
Two engineers working under an aircraft's wing.

Continuing Airworthiness

Continuing airworthiness management refers to efforts to maintain aircraft so that it is technically sound for flight and remains flyable for the duration of its life. All procedures ensuring that an aircraft, at any point in its life, meets the technical requirements for the issuance of the Certificate of Airworthiness and is in a safe operating condition, as specified in the ICAO Airworthiness Manual.

According to ICAO Annex 8, the State of Design is in charge of the program to maintain continued airworthiness, while the State of Registry is in charge of the program to maintain continuing airworthiness. Comparing Continued and Continuing is beneficial because they are sometimes used interchangeably. Continued airworthiness is also known as type airworthiness or initial airworthiness.

Continued Airworthiness: All the activities involved in maintaining a type design and the related authorized data during its lifetime.

Continuing Airworthiness: Every procedure guaranteeing that the airplane conforms with the current airworthiness standards and is fit condition for safe operation at any point during its service life.

What Are Airworthiness Directives?

An airworthiness directive is a legally enforceable directive that determines the status of a product (including aircraft and their many components, such as engines, propellers, and flight control system). ADs are sometimes issued when airlines detect and document defective parts or mechanisms as required by law. In other cases, regulations are enacted by the government following an investigation into an aircraft accident, if there is evidence that imprecisely manufactured parts or procedures were to blame.

The FAA’s Aircraft Certification Service is in charge of ensuring that the aircraft it is mandated to regulate operate safely on a consistent basis. The FAA’s aviation safety engineers (ASEs) are responsible for identifying potentially dangerous situations and determining whether a regulation is required to address them.

Why ADs are important?

Aircraft owners and aircraft operators occasionally encounter problems that jeopardize the safety of the pilots and passengers. To address these issues, the government must implement airworthiness directives (ADs) to ensure aircraft safety and smooth functioning.

Examples of Airworthiness Directives

In August 2019, the FAA released a rule for specific Boeing 737 MAX types in response to complaints that a component had been manufactured incorrectly. The legislation requires that all maintenance logs for the aircraft complies that the mismatch is not overlooked.

Who is responsible for Airworthiness Certificate?

Who is in charge of an aircraft’s airworthiness? Even though it appears that the mechanic work on the airworthiness of aircraft, 14 CFR section 91.403(a) states that the owner or operator is ultimately responsible for keeping the plane safe and airworthy.

Who ensure airworthiness?

There must be a “matchmaker” who truly resolves all of these issues and ensures that airplanes are fit to fly and meet all FAA requirements between the FAA, which creates and enforces airworthiness regulations, and the aircrew and passengers who use the airplane. Aviation maintenance specialists ensure flight safety.

A team of engineers discussing and pointing.

What is Airworthiness Directorate

The Airworthiness Directorate is in charge of enforcing the Civil Aviation Rules of 1994’s requirements for regulations, suggested procedures, and airworthiness recommendations.

Core Functions of Airworthiness Directorate

The primary responsibility of this Directorate is to increase and sustain flight safety through efficient and modern airworthiness legislation and by encouraging manufacturers to meet stringent airworthiness requirements. Civil aircraft registrations, certification of airplane construction and design specifications, engineering licenses for aviation maintenance technicians and aircraft mechanics, endorsement of relevant organizations, standardization, and safety interrogation are all part of these procedures. Among the actions that monitor and control airworthiness are:


1.         Certification of aeronautical products

2.         Issue of Airworthiness Directives

3.         Approval of Modification and Repair

4.         Investigation of Incidents & Defects

5.         Aircraft Type Certificate Acceptance

Audit & Surveillance

1.         Approval of Maintenance Organizations / Repair Stations

2.         Approval of Design Organizations and Manufacturing Organizations

3.         Approval of Aircraft Maintenance & Facilities

4.         Approval of Training Organizations

5.         Spot Checks / Ramp Inspections


1.         Initial Issue and Renewal of Certificate of Airworthiness

2.         Continuing Airworthiness Maintenance

3.         Registration of civil aircraft

4.         Develop and update standards, requirement and procedures

5.         Analyze airworthiness data, including all occurrence reporting, service difficulties reporting, malfunction and defects

Engineers Licensing

1.         Syllabus Approvals

2.         Grant of Limited Authorization

3.         Personal Approvals (Shops)

4.         Foreign AMEs Validation

5.         AME Examinations

6.         AME License

7.         Executive Appointments


In short, airworthiness certificates and airworthiness directives are there to ensure that the aircraft and equipment onboard the aircraft is safe for operation and does not impose any harm on the crew and passengers onboard the craft.

As you can see from the article, there are various institutions and entities involved to make sure the airworthiness is achieved by issuing airworthiness certification. While this might seem like a complicated process, it is a vital one in the aviation industry. And thanks to many engineers and other stakeholders, you can rest assured that every flight you take is as safe as it can possibly be.

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Jet pilot @NASA

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