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FAA Adopts EAA's Definition For Aerobatic Flight 'Surface Areas'

Reverses 1999 Ruling

March 16, 2006 — A recent finding by the FAA Office of Chief Counsel affirms an EAA petition filed in 1998 that sought to accurately define "surface areas" for aerobatic flight areas. FAA denied the petition in 1999, stating that aerobatic flight "may not be conducted within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of a Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E designated for an airport." However, in response to a more recent petition filed by an EAA member, FAA reversed that earlier decision and agreed with EAA's opinion.

EAA maintained that since the term "surface area," refers only to those components of airspace that come in contact with the surface of the earth, aerobatics could be performed legally within Class B airspace (with proper ATC clearance) and/or underneath the floors of Class B airspace.

The issue "re-surfaced" late last year when Robert Hucker, EAA 443420, Lakeville , Minnesota , filed a petition in advance of the Minneapolis (MSP) Class B airspace expansion slated to go live February 16. That expansion increased MSP's Class B radius from 20 nm to as much as 30 nm in some areas, including over an aerobatic practice area 25 miles southwest of the airport used frequently by many local aerobatic pilots. Hucker used EAA's 1998 petition as a basis for filing his petition.

"The (1999 FAA) explanation to EAA's petition didn't seem right to me," Hucker said. "Plus use of the term, 'surface area,' was inconsistent, so I decided to put together some facts and file my own petition." During his fact-finding process, Hucker discovered EAA's 1998 petition at the MSP Flight Service District Office (FSDO) and used that as the basis of his argument.

In a March 7 letter, Rebecca MacPherson, FAA Assistant Chief Council, Regulations, wrote in a letter to Hucker, "Upon review, we conclude that the EAA was indeed correct in its understanding of 'surface areas.' In responding to your inquiry, we concluded that our 1999 interpretation was inconsistent with the term 'surface area' as used by Air Traffic Organization (ATO) airspace planners to describe only airspace that touches the surface of the earth."

Randy Hansen, EAA government relations director remarked, "EAA is extremely grateful to Mr. Hucker and his steadfast approach in recognizing and acting to correct this issue. EAA's task is to now ensure the aerobatic community receives this corrected definition in a timely manner."

So as long as the operational requirements of Class C airspace, Class B airspace, and other aerobatic flight requirements can be met, pilots may perform aerobatics under the outer areas (the classic "upside down wedding cake") of Class B and Class C airspace. It's also important to note that this is not a rule change, but simply a re-interpretation of the existing rule 14 CFR Part. 91.303(c).

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