We often hear this question from pilots that are considering a new headset. When it comes to the term “TSO” (Technical Standard Orders) with regard to headsets there is a lot of confusion that we will try to clear up here.
TSO is actually not a certification, but rather, an authorization. From the FAA website:
“A TSO is a minimum performance standard for specified materials, parts, and appliances used on civil aircraft. When authorized to manufacture a material, part, or appliances to a TSO standard, this is referred to as TSO authorization. Receiving a TSO authorization is both design and production approval.
Receiving a TSO Authorization is not an approval to install and use the article in the aircraft. It means that the article meets the specific TSO and the applicant is authorized to manufacture it.”
The authorization pertains to design and production approval. Using a TSO headset is not an FAA requirement for any type of civil operation including part 91, 121, or 135 operations and only specifies a “minimum performance standard”. Where the confusion can sometimes occur is that individual operators may choose to require the presence of a TSO headset either “available to the pilot” or “worn by the pilot”. If you fly for an employer with an operations manual that has this requirement it is important to understand the language in the manual and abide by it. We have seen many instances where a TSO headset is present on the flight deck in a storage compartment, and the pilots are wearing a headset of their choice that may or may not be TSO’d.
One of the obvious questions you may ask is why doesn’t every headset manufacturer make all of their headsets qualify for TSO authorization? As one of the industry leading brands in premium active noise reduction headsets, Lightspeed has chosen not to pursue the TSO authorization. All Lightspeed headsets are tested to FCC and CE certifications, internal environmental standards, Apple MFi program standards (if required), and meet performance requirements of the FAA to be used in any civil aircraft. A Lightspeed headset will perform exactly the same as any TSO headset in emergency situations. For example, if the batteries die during flight, there will still be uninterrupted communication (fail safe mode). If there is a complete power failure in the aircraft, the Bluetooth feature will enable you to use a cellular or satellite phone to contact ATC – depending on which you have on board.
However, because TSO authorization is not an FAA requirement and is a bureaucratic and expensive process to maintain, it is Lightspeed’s view that it is an unnecessary cost burden that must be passed onto customers to get a feature that adds no tangible value in improving safety or the flying experience. Having said that, you may still find yourself buying a TSO headset from one of our competitors because your employer mandates it. We understand that and there are some good options to consider if that is the case. Absent a mandate from your employer, you are free to select the headset that best meets your needs without regard to the TSO.
Another common misconception is that a TSO authorization implies a higher level of quality. The standard that is more applicable in guaranteeing quality is the ISO standard. Lightspeed rigorously maintains this standard. For design, production, and all other business processes, Lightspeed is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company. Maintaining this certification requires annual internal and external audits to a very stringent and specific set of international guidelines. This ensures that everything we do is process-oriented and will consistently result in the world-class outcome we demand of our products. As you consider your next headset purchase, asking if the company is ISO 9001:2015 certified will give you an indication of how seriously they pursue quality. Like Lightspeed, the best ones will have the certification.
There are hundreds of thousands of Lightspeed headsets in use worldwide, and numerous online reviews to inform a buying decision. Safety, quality, and service are the drivers of the Lightspeed business and culture. If pursuing the TSO authorization were critical to any of these factors we would do it without hesitation. While the TSO authorization does guarantee the headset meets the “minimum performance standard”, it does not guarantee any additional margin of quality or safety.