I’m having trouble finding the right information. I want to understand what standards must be complied with if I was to design a camera system for use in small general aviation aircraft. If I understand things correctly, an STC is needed for any modifications to the airframe, though must the equipment used in the aircraft comply with some standard?
Almost all aircraft in General Aviation are certified to the Part 23 standard. The naming system and organization of the standards are common in different countries, so whether in the USA, Canada, Europe, Brazil or even China, you’re still referring to “Part 23” as the basic design standard. The easiest access to what’s in the standard is to access it from the FAA website. That of course presents you with the firehose of information, and while interesting to the general aircraft owner, it takes a lot of work to learn how to meet the standard.
Just in case you are asking about a light-sport aircraft or other “ultralight” type. In that case a lower standard applies, but you will not be permitted to operate flights using the camera for a business such as selling photography or mapping.
The aviation industry has a system of certification that started with governments and has slowly de-regulated over many decades into a system of “delegated authority”. A company can be delegated, if it qualifies, to approve modifications to aircraft. In many jurisdictions, individual persons can be delegated, too, provided they have the skill and qualifications needed. The qualifications one has will determine the scope of authority one can approve.
If you are developing a camera, and you want to mount it on an aircraft, you are likely affecting a large number of components and qualities of the aircraft. How much - the famous phrase - “it depends”. To show proof that the aircraft remains safe to fly, you should rely on aeronautical engineers to figure out what standards of safety are affected by your camera and how to show that the aircraft can be still safe to fly. The delegated organizations I mentioned can advise and support your development process.
It can be easy, for some, to sit back and argue that small cameras are “Probably fine… What could go wrong?” The armchair quarterbacks have their say, but then the rest of us go to work establishing the level of safety is equivalent to the level already in the aircraft design and provide proof of it. A bit like the difference between hear-say in a court versus admissible evidence.
Equipment can be certified for installation on a non-interferance basis. It’s generally reserved for equipment that actually plays no role in operation of the aircraft.
Meeting DO-160 is probably a good starting point.
There are FAA Advisory Circulars that describe the STC application process. At one time, it was possible to do something like that on a Form 337 too. I don’t know if that is still a possibility.
If you plan to sell this equipment, vs. modify one airplane you operate you’ll need to consider aircraft parts manufacturing approval.
How the aircraft will be operated also matters, operation under CFR Title 14, part 91, Part 135, part 121, as an experimental? It all matters.
Above is a snippet.