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EAA, FAA, and the 51% Rule

Frank Paskiewicz
Frank Paskiewicz

About mid-July, the FAA issued a new policy for administering and enforcing the 51 percent rule for amateur-built aircraft in the USA. On Tuesday during AirVenture Oshkosh, John Hickey, FAA Director of Aircraft Certification, and Frank Paskiewicz, FAA Manager of Production and Airworthiness Division, discussed the proposed new policy and the reasoning behind it at a lively public forum attended by close to 200 people.

In the USA, the amateur-built aircraft category allows its citizens to 'design, build and fly' their own aircraft so long as the builder does so solely for his or her "education or recreation." In addition, the amateur builder must build the major portion of the aircraft. This is commonly known as the "51% rule." Commercial builder assistance for financial compensation is allowed, but only if the builder still completes 51% of the fabrication and assembly tasks.

John Hickey stated that the FAA has absolutely no intent on doing away with the amateur-built rule, but "there are aircraft out there that are not built to amateur-built standards, that people are trying to certify as amateur-built aircraft. Those aircraft are effectively unregulated-there is no existing aircraft category into which they fit." The FAA wants to get back to the original intent of the amateur-built rule. "We cannot continue to support or tolerate a group of aircraft that are not regulated," he said.

The new policy would mean tighter enforcement of the 51% rule. It would require the owner to 'fabricate' at least 20%, and 'assemble' at least 20 percent, and then allow the builder to make up the remaining 11 percent (to a total of 51 percent) by either 'fabrication' or 'assembly'. The builder will be required to show compliance through documentation. Eligible aircraft kits will be 'grandfathered' until the new policy is in place. A new expanded version of the evaluation task list will include 'fabrication' and 'assembly' columns, and the DAR inspector will be required to ensure compliance before issuing an airworthiness certificate.

Several people raised questions about composite aircraft, safety, and disqualification of some existing kits and programs. Hickey responded; "The intent of the 51% rule is not focused on safety. The foundation of the rule is allowing you to build an airplane in your garage and fly it."

On Wednesday, July 30, at a second AirVenture Oshkosh forum, again attended by some 200 persons, EAA staff and the EAA Homebuilt Aircraft Council responded to the proposed new policy.

"We don't need any new regulations, the FAA just needs to enforce the rules it has in place," Earl Lawrence, EAA's Vice-president of Industry and Regulatory Affairs, told the crowd. "Our goal, first and foremost, is to protect your rights and privileges as an amateur-aircraft builder. The US is one of the only places where an amateur builder can build an aircraft with no limits on the size and power of the aircraft."

"We want to see the kit manufacturers be able to continue to innovate," said Joe Norris, EAA's Homebuilt Community Manager. "And we want to preserve the ability of individuals to use their inventiveness" in designing and building amateur-built aircraft. "We want to make sure the abuses of the rule are addressed without placing new restrictions and burdens on amateur-builders." he added.

EAA raised objections to the FAA's new policy, which requires the builder to show that at least 20 percent of the amateur-built project involved fabrication, or "creating a part from raw stock." Lawrence pointed out an earlier FAA policy on amateur-built aircraft, which says it's "not possible to differentiate between fabrication and assembly. It's a judgment call." EAA believes that 'fabrication' and 'assembly' should continue to be combined in the 51% builder requirement.

The core concern, Lawrence said, is people circumventing the rule--trying to get into the amateur-built category aircraft that are really commercially built. Another amateur builder received loud and sustained applause when he told the gathering, "We don't need any new regulations; the existing regulations are just fine. Lying to the FAA is a federal crime and grounds for revocation of every certificate you hold. We want to take those people and put them in jail."

EAA Homebuilt Aircraft Council Chairman, Doug Kelly urged amateur builders to share their comments and ideas with the FAA. "The constructive side of criticism is really important at this time," he said. "The foundation of the amateur-built rule is intended solely for 'recreation or education,' not for commercial gain, or to accelerate the completion of the project. Let's foster it, let's be constructive." The comment deadline is September 30.

Canadian amateur-built aircraft rules and regulations differ from the above. We are, nevertheless, interested and conscious of our U.S. neighbors and their rights and privileges, since they indirectly affect us. If a Canadian builder wishes to sell his amateur-built aircraft to an American citizen, it will be required to meet any FAA policy in force.

To learn more about this 51% rule and new FAA policy, and EAA's analysis of the proposal, visit www.EAA.org/govt/.

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