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EAA Chapter 512 Working to Reverse 'No First Flight' Ruling

Runway 5/23 is the most used runway at PVF. The traffic pattern is over the canyon to the right of the runway. The ramp that points to the lower left corner (westerly), is the very original runway built in 1928 now used for tie downs and hangars, including the Chapter 512 hangar.

March 19, 2008 — EAA and Chapter 512 in Placerville, California, are working together in an effort to reverse a decision announced in early December 2007 that prohibits first flights in homebuilt aircraft at the Placerville Airport (PVF). The chapter first learned of the flight ban from an FAA inspector who was at the airport performing an airworthiness inspection on December 5. The inspector informed a builder that due to housing density around the airport, first flights in homebuilts would no longer be allowed, in accordance with FAR 91.305 which states:

"No person may flight test an aircraft except over open water, or sparsely populated areas, having light air traffic."

The ruling forces several EAAers who are nearing completion of their projects to make their first flights elsewhere, potentially adding more expense - and certainly complexity - to finishing their airplanes.

One of the problems with FAR 91.305 is that it does not define what "sparsely populated" means, leaving the definition open to local interpretation. Chapter 512 President Kay Morgan, EAA 450518 and NAFI 13026, has been working with EAA government relations staff to try and reverse the "no first flight" rule. She met this past Monday, March 17, with Sacramento Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) officials and received assurances that the issue would be re-examined. Representing the FAA at the meeting were FSDO Manager Gregory Michael and Aviation Safety Inspector Tom Weeks.

The FAA contends that the airport vicinity lacks a suitable area to safely put the aircraft down in the event of an engine failure. "Of course, their angle is safety," Morgan said. "Their decision stems largely from professional pilots they know who regularly use PVF, about half of whom feel there is no place to go if the engine quit. But they don't have any safety data to back up that claim." In fact, Morgan's aerial photos of PVF show what many would presume to be a "sparsely populated" area in the vicinity of the airport.

Morgan, a CFI who's been flying at PVF since 1987, said her meeting went about as well as she could expect. "It was an open discussion that laid the groundwork for where we go from here," she said. "The fact that the FAA is willing to take another look at this issue says a lot."

Randy Hansen, EAA director of government relations, worked with Morgan so she could prepare for her meeting with the FSDO officials. "When Kay first called EAA, we devoted time educating her on the appropriate FAA regulations, FAA Orders, and FAA Advisory Circulars," Hansen said. "Because of these discussions, Kay was able to present Chapter 512 concerns in a professional manner and had a very good and open discussion with the FSDO."

Morgan found EAA's web-based resources especially useful. "The reference paper titled 'Partnership in Safety' (EAA Chapter website) also provided valuable tips on handling this issue and dealing with the FAA," she said. "Being a new chapter leader I have read and referred to many of EAA's reference papers for ideas and guidance.

Thanks to the broad scope of support provided by EAA, I was well prepared to discuss the matter, and in the end, received assurances that the FAA would revisit their decision to disallow homebuilt first flights."

Reducing complexity of participation in recreational aviation is one of EAA's primary mission goals, explains Hansen "We understand the intent of FAR 91.305 to limit test flights to 'sparsely populated areas or over open water,' but in this case the FSDO's addition of "must have a safe place to land" component to the FAR 91.305 equation adds a higher level of complexity to this aeronautical activity that here-to-fore has not existed within any FAA guidance. If this additional component were to be permanently added then even Cessna, Piper, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin would be prohibited from test flying their new aircraft."

Morgan says she expects to hear from FSDO Manager Michael soon regarding continuing discussions on the matter.

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