FAA Notice Answers EAAers' Call to Protect 51%-Approved Aircraft Kits
April 18, 2008 — As foreshadowed in an announcement made at Sun 'n Fun last week by the FAA's Small Airplane Directorate manager, the agency today posted to the Federal Register a policy decision to not re-evaluate any previously approved aircraft kits under its forthcoming new policy on amateur-built certification.
"The policy published today represents a significant victory in the EAA community's ongoing advocacy to preserve the enormous recreational and educational value of the vast majority of today's amateur-building practices," said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of industry and regulatory affairs.
The FAA's statement reassures aircraft-kit manufacturers and customers that - as the agency firms up its policy on interpreting and enforcing the requirement that amateur builders personally perform more than half (51% or more) of the construction tasks in building their aircraft - the FAA will not disqualify any kits that it had already approved. (See list of approved kits.)
"The FAA continues to forecast more stringent standards for determining the amateur builder's contribution," Lawrence said. "Now, however, aircraft-building enthusiasts who are working on or planning to purchase a kit already on the FAA's 'approved' list may rest assured. They won't have the rug pulled out from under them."
For more than two years, the FAA has expressed concerns that prefabrication and commercial builder assistance are diminishing some amateur builders' actual contributions to construction. The agency has indicated it will announce revised enforcement policies as early as the end of this month.
"Because a comprehensive policy revision is still coming, we in the EAA community must remain vigilant," Lawrence added. "As we have from the beginning, we must continue to protect the amateur builder's privilege to construct aircraft of any technical and performance specifications.
"Furthermore, we must be ready to respond once we've seen the FAA's policy revision. Many questions still confront aircraft-building enthusiasts, so the FAA's new vision of how to interpret and enforce the 51% requirement remains a concern."
Accordingly, Lawrence reminds amateur builders that certification of a completed aircraft construction project is not a foregone conclusion - even for kits on the approved list. "This latest notice reminded us that the FAA determines whether an amateur builder personally contributed enough to the construction of a particular aircraft when the FAA performs the airworthiness inspection," he said. "The builder still has to show that he or she did the work.
"Theoretically, a kit could be on the approved list with the assumption that it qualifies only if the amateur personally performs all of the construction tasks that remain after the kit manufacturer prefabricates and preassembles certain components. This is why we must be careful to fully understand the new enforcement criteria that the FAA will soon publish."
In the mean time, Lawrence advises all amateur builders to adopt scrupulous record keeping practices. "The best practice is to carefully document your work as you progress through a project," he said.