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PERSPECTIVE: What is EAA's position on amateur-built aircraft and the "51 percent Rule"?

Earl Lawrence, EAA Vice President of Industry and Regulatory Affairs

For the past several months, EAA's print and online publications have included articles regarding the regulations and policies governing the construction of aircraft by amateurs. The issues surrounding the Experimental Amateur-Built Regulations, which speak to the very core of EAA's essence, are commanding the spotlight as the FAA is developing a new amateur-built aircraft certification policy to appear in a notice to the Federal Register.

As the FAA finalizes its new policy, this is an important time to review the EAA community's core position on these issues. The well being of the amateur-building movement matters not only to EAAers who build, but to all of general aviation, which has benefited enormously from the innovations that the movement has engendered.

The FAA continues to suggest that the new policy will introduce a stricter interpretation and enforcement of the requirement that the amateur builder personally carry out a majority, 51 percent or greater, of the aircraft construction tasks. The FAA statements focus primarily on concerns about aircraft-kit prefabrication and/or commercial builder-assistance practices that might actually preclude the amateur from personally performing a majority of the construction tasks.

These statements have prompted considerable discussion and numerous questions among EAAers: What, if any, existing aircraft kits will be disqualified? May I hire a professional to assist me in the aircraft-kit's construction? Should I buy the aircraft kit that I have my eye on, or should I wait? Will some corner-cutting by customers of a few kit manufacturers or commercial-assistance providers prompt the FAA to restrict all commercial assistance, and fast build kits, thereby ruining it for the rest of us?

Our communications in recent months have addressed these questions. Feedback and questions among EAAers suggest, however, that many are confused about the issue, what the FAA is doing or not doing, and what is EAA's position. The subject of amateur building includes a rich and detailed history. It presents numerous angles to consider according to the points of view of various constituent interest groups within the EAA community. It raises technical questions regarding the best methods for measuring the amateur-builder's contribution. The subject has even given rise to the exploration of ideas for alternative regulatory avenues allowing for various levels of participation in build-and-fly activities.

In attempting to capture all of this complex information, our communications have perhaps not made clear our most fundamental principles to uphold regarding this issue. However, in all the swirling dialogue among EAAers on this topic, some prevailing themes come to light. These themes allow EAA to articulate a definitive position as the community awaits the FAA's statement on future interpretation and enforcement of the 51 percent Rule:

  • FAA should not attempt to change the experimental amateur-built rules. The amateur-builders' privilege to design, construct, and fly the aircraft of their vision - without limitations on the type of aircraft - has served all of aviation with invaluable discoveries and innovations.

  • In its interpretation and enforcement of the amateur builder's "major portion" requirement, the FAA should seek to protect the spirit and intent of the amateur-building rules, and to preserve the beneficial aspects of the environment that exists today.

  • The amateur-built rules do not and should not preclude the assistance and participation of paid professionals . so long as the amateur fulfills the requirement to personally carry out a majority of the construction work.
With these tenets serving as a basis, EAAers are contributing to the body of empirical evidence that the FAA must consider as it drafts its forthcoming policy statement. In letters to the FAA division drafting the policy on interpretation and enforcement of 51 percent, EAA amateur builders are reinforcing the previous themes with statements along these lines:
  • They value above all else the freedom afforded by the experimental amateur-built rules to dream up, design, build, and fly the aircraft of their vision, without limitations on the complexity, power, size, or performance of the aircraft.

  • Their experiences in building their airplanes left them with an enormous sense of accomplishment and reward. Even those who assembled quick-build kits completed the process truly feeling that they had built their own airplane. They derived both educational and recreational benefits from the activity, in keeping with the spirit of the experimental amateur-built rules.

  • In light of the preceding points, they urge the FAA to preserve the amateur-building movement and the constructive environment that exists today.
    • The regulations have proven resoundingly successful over their more than 50-year term, having contributed a legacy of immeasurable value through innovation to all of aviation.
    • Today’s common practices continue to uphold the spirit and intent of the more than 50-year-old regulations. They continue to foster participation, learning, and the enjoyment of the activity.

If you are a builder or have built an amateur-built aircraft, it is important that you share your experience with the FAA. To learn how you can weigh-in on this issue, click here.

Having established a clear and firm position on these fundamental points in our dialogue with the FAA, the EAA community will be well-positioned to respond - favorably, in protest, or somewhere in between - when the FAA makes clear its position via the Federal Register notice.


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