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EAA’s 601 Survey Helps Make Case to FAA

Joe Norris

I’m sure by now all of you are aware of the recent FAA actions regarding the Zenith Zodiac CH 601 XL and CH 650. These aircraft are certificated in a number of categories including experimental amateur-built. They’re homebuilts! Let me share with you some thoughts regarding these homebuilt aircraft and how this situation can affect the entire homebuilt community.

CH 601 XLs and CH 650s which already held experimental airworthiness certificates, either experimental amateur-built or experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA), were not grounded, but owners and operators were strongly encouraged to incorporate the AMD-recommended modifications or in some similar way address the safety concerns.

EAA understands that the FAA considered a number of responses to the safety concerns relating to these aircraft, including drastic, unprecedented actions that would have been highly undesirable for the homebuilt community. EAA stepped forward to protect your privilege to build and fly your homebuilts. For example, EAA conducted a survey of Zodiac builders and owners to gain an understanding of how the issue was being dealt with in the field. Over 400 responses were received, with a large majority of owners indicating that they were aware of and had read the relevant documents and were taking action to address the issue. This information gave the FAA a level of confidence that owners of these aircraft were acting in a timely and responsible manner and that no additional action was necessary. I want to thank everyone who took time to complete the survey. This information was critical to our efforts to assure the FAA that the homebuilt community cares about safety issues and that we act responsibly with regard to safety. This “self-policing” is the key to maintaining our privileges and freedoms to build and fly homebuilt aircraft.

Included in the survey was an opportunity for respondents to comment to EAA on the issue and EAA’s response. As is quite common with such surveys, the comments covered the entire spectrum, from “Great job—keep it up,” to something more along the lines of “You missed the boat completely,” or words to that effect. However, there were some trends that emerged that are worth noting.

First and foremost, a number of respondents felt that more data on the problems with the aircraft should be available. EAA agrees. The more information that is available, the better prepared we all are to respond in an appropriate manner. EAA will continue to publish any and all pertinent information on the EAA website and in this newsletter.

Some respondents took us to task, stating that we were “throwing Zenith under the bus.” This is certainly not our intent and in fact, we went out of our way to publish Zenith’s response to the SAIB. We know that having Zenith survive and thrive is to everyone’s benefit. Just look at the great job Zenith is doing in documenting online how to make the prescribed modifications. Zenith and the entire Heintz family have been valuable supporters of the homebuilt movement for a long time. Chris Heintz’ lifelong commitment to the homebuilt movement has been recognized in 1999 by his induction into the EAA Homebuilders Hall of Fame.

On the other side of this issue, some members were concerned that EAA was not standing up for their privilege to build and operate experimental aircraft. This is definitely not the case. EAA is always working to ensure that our members do not lose the privileges and freedoms we’ve worked hard to gain over the years. The survey of CH 601 XL and CH 650 owners is just one example of how EAA was able to provide the FAA with information that helped ward off further action that would negatively affect our members. But at the same time, we must all be cognizant of the fact that the gains we’ve made over the years have resulted primarily from improvements in our safety record. It’s important that we do everything we can to show FAA and the general public that all homebuilders take their responsibility very seriously. We must continue to operate and maintain our amateur-built aircraft to high standards so that we do not give ammunition to those who might wish to curtail our privilege and freedom.

I want to assure all of you that EAA always works to protect your privilege to design, build, and fly your amateur-built aircraft. We work together with kit manufacturers, government officials and others in the industry, but we will always put our members first. Always! That I can guarantee.- Joe Norris, EAA's Homebuilders Community Manager

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