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EAA, FAA Discuss Experimental Amateur-Built Rules

2008 EAA/FAA Recreational Aviation Summit

2008 EAA/FAA Recreational Aviation Summit
EAA's Earl Lawrence discusses homebuilt issues with the FAA's Nick Sabatini and John Hickey during the recent recreational aviation summit meeting.

February 6, 2008 — In November last year, EAA President Tom Poberezny commented, “The EAA community consistently rallies behind efforts to open as many doors as possible to aviation enthusiasts. That’s why we want to protect the existing amateur-building rules, including the spirit of the 51-percent requirement, to preserve the nearly unlimited scope of that category. Under those rules, an innovator has the flexibility to construct virtually any imaginable flying machine. We don’t want to lose that freedom.”

January’s EAA/FAA Recreational Aviation Summit once again provided EAA with an opportunity to inform the FAA of the need to protect the FAR 21.191(g), experimental amateur-built aircraft, from limitations on size, type of powerplant, or complexity.

Eighteen months ago the FAA teamed with EAA and key recreational aviation leaders to conduct an in-depth review of the experimental amateur-built aircraft rule. The FAA formed the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) with the primary focus of reviewing the wording that states aircraft owner(s) “must have fabricated and assembled the majority portion of the aircraft for their own education or recreation” to qualify for this type of certification.

The committee was charged with developing and presenting to the FAA their thoughts and ideas on what the original intent of the regulation was, how it is being applied today, and what impact the growing commercial assistance centers is having on the industry. Even though consensus agreement was not reached in all discussion areas, the ARC was able to present solid recommendations to senior FAA leaders.

The ARC completed its work on November 15, 2007, and presented its joint findings and recommendations to senior FAA leaders. Because the FAA has the option of adopting all, some, or none of the recommendations, EAA and the other key recreational aviation leaders can’t tell you today what the FAA will end up proposing as their final policy. What is certain is that sometime in the next 2 to 4 months the FAA will publish their proposed policies and procedures based on the recommendations, and the public will have 60 days to comment on them. After the FAA completes its review of all the public comments, they’ll issue a final policy and procedures document in the Federal Register prior to October 2008.

EAA’s Earl Lawrence, vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, co-chaired the ARC along with Dick Van Grunsven of Van’s Aircraft. Lawrence said that EAA agrees with the FAA regarding the sanctity of the 51 percent rule. “Our goal is to show that we are meeting an equivalent level of safety and to facilitate this activity that is currently happening,” he said.

For aircraft that do not qualify under the 51 percent rule, the committee’s recommendation is to revise the seldom-used Primary Kit-Built Category (FAR 21.191(h) by incorporating ASTM International consensus standards in place of production and type certificate requirements. As they have shown already in the Special Light-Sport Aircraft category, ASTM standards would address quality, durability, and dependability while keeping these airplanes out of the traditional amateur-built category.

At the Summit meeting, Associate Administrator for Safety Nick Sabatini said that there’s currently “a clear distinction between type certificated and amateur-built. To put another layer in there and say it’s commercially available will prompt questions regarding safety that becomes a difficult conversation.”

Lawrence disagreed, saying, “Every step of the way will have an equivalent level of safety.” Additional levels of standards, he added, would be established for increasingly complicated aircraft.

John Hickey, FAA director of aircraft certification, said “We have great concerns about promoting growth in a little-used category in a business where there is increased scrutiny at this time.” He added that the FAA would look for EAA’s comments to the upcoming NPRM on the issue.

“Forcing certain experimental kit types into primary (type-certificated) category certification could harm several manufacturers,” Lawrence claimed. Conversely, the FAA said that allowing commercial building of a kit aircraft and calling it a homebuilt could adversely affect Part 23-certifcated aircraft manufacturers.

Lawrence added, “A growing number of people in the building community are employing the use of commercial assistance and other means to complete the major portion of their aircraft, yet they still aim to certificate them as amateur builts. Problem is, by paying someone else to build your airplane, or using a commercial assistance center, the resulting aircraft may by definition fall outside the FAA’s amateur-built regulations.”

But what about these fast-built, non-compliant, commercially assisted kit planes? We await the publication in the Federal Register of the draft FAA ARC policies and procedures for the answer to this question.

Other ARC stories:
November 16, 2007: ARC’s Industry Members Provide Amateur-Built Policy Recommendations
November 21, 2007: Preserving Amateur-Builders’ Rights
February 2008 EAA Sport Aviation, page 102: Look Back, Look Around, Move Forward, by Dick VanGrunsven

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