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Tales from the DAR Side

The Limits of Operating Limitations

Joe Norris
Joe Norris

The FAA uses the term “operating limitations” to mean many things. On a type-certificated aircraft the operating limitations will include some combination of approved performance data such as an approved flight manual or pilot’s operating handbook, required placards and markings, and other information as required by the aircraft’s certification. Pilots learn to look for these operating limitations during their primary training and are reminded during flight reviews. The FAA uses the term in a completely different way when talking about experimental aircraft, and these operating limitations are less well known and understood. Allow me to shed some light on the subject! Read more

Experimental aircraft operating limitations are issued by the FAA as a part of the aircraft’s airworthiness certificate. The document will typically be three or four pages long, the first page being FAA letterhead identifying the issuing office. Included in the pages is a list of numbered limitations that outline various requirements and restrictions placed upon the operation of the aircraft. The airworthiness certificate is FAA Form 8130-7, Special Airworthiness Certificate. It’s pink in color and looks like this:

DAR Side

The category will be “experimental,” and for homebuilts the purpose will be “operating an amateur-built aircraft.” Sections B and C will contain “N/A” as they don’t apply to amateur-built certifications. The rest of the certificate will contain information specific to the aircraft being certificated. E-LSA (experimental light-sport aircraft) and S-LSA (special light-sport aircraft) airworthiness certificates will look almost identical with the only differences being what is contained in the category and purpose sections.

Here’s what the current version of amateur-built operating limitations will look like:

DAR Side
Larger view

The contents of the operating limitations are found in FAA Order 8130.2, titled Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft and Related Products. The FAA updates this order periodically and will designate updates with suffix letters and change numbers. The current version of the order is 8130.2F,Change 5. The FAA has already announced that a new version of the order, 8130.2G, will go into effect next April. You can view the current version of the order in PDF format here. It’s important to note that as the order has evolved over the years so have the operating limitations. Airworthiness certificates issued some years ago will include operating limitations that are different from those issued in more recent years. Some of these differences are significant, so you need to make sure to read the limitations that apply to the specific aircraft you’re going to own or operate. Changes to the order aren’t retroactive and don’t affect operating limitations that have already been issued.

Finding your aircraft’s operating limitations shouldn’t be difficult. As a part of the airworthiness certificate, the operating limitations document is required to be carried in the aircraft at all times. The pilot wishing to operate the aircraft should be able to find the operating limitations onboard. There apparently is some confusion on this issue, because one of the most frequent questions I get from members is, “Where do I find my aircraft’s operating limitations?” When I tell them to look in the aircraft, the follow-on comment is, “They’re not there and I can’t find them.” I’m sure there are dozens if not hundreds of homebuilts flying around without the operating limitations onboard, and if pilots of these aircraft are ever ramp-checked by an experimental-savvy FAA inspector, they’ll have an issue to deal with. Bottom line: Make sure your operating limitations are onboard the aircraft!

Missing Operating Limitations
What do you need to do if your operating limitations are missing or lost? The operating limitations are a part of the aircraft’s permanent file at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, so getting a copy is as simple as calling the FAA Aircraft Registration Branch. You can reach them toll-free at 866-762-9434. You’ll need to provide them with the N-number, builder name, and serial number of the aircraft. They’ll be happy to fax you a copy of the operating limitations. It can also be done online at http://Aircraft.FAA.gov/e.gov/ND/airrecordsND.asp

I suggest that you make a photocopy of your aircraft’s airworthiness certificate and operating limitations to keep with the aircraft maintenance records. This step allows you to leave a copy in the aircraft at all times with no need take them out for reference. Here’s the most common way for the operating limitations to be removed from the aircraft: The owner will take them out to check something, then leave them with the logbook or lying on the workbench in the hangar, forgetting to replace them in the aircraft before the next flight. Also, having a copy of the airworthiness certificate and operating limitations makes the FAA inspector’s job a bit easier should you ever need to request a replacement for lost or destroyed documents.

So that’s the basic outline on what experimental operating limitations are and where you should be able to find them. Next month I’ll go into the limitations in more detail and talk about some of the variations that you might find. For a preview, you may want to check out my recent webinar, Owning and Flying a Homebuilt – What You Need to Know,available in the webinar archives. I covered some points about operating limitations in the webinar which I’ll expand upon in next month’s column.

Operating limitations – don’t fly without ’em!



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