Revised "51 Percent" Policy Good News for Builders, Kit Makers
October 7, 2009 — For the past four years, EAA and the amateur-built aircraft community have been facing perhaps the most significant threat ever faced by the homebuilt movement. But today, we’re confident in declaring that the threat is over; the FAA this week released the long-awaited final order that revises the amateur-built aircraft certification policy known as the 51 percent rule as well as Advisory Circular 20-27G, the guide for amateur builders on how to properly certify every step of the building process.
These documents are the result of a concerted effort led by the EAA community, homebuilders, the kitbuilding industry and other stakeholders. The documents not only update and clarify the amateur-built aircraft building process, they remove the fear many had of not being able to build and fly their own aircraft as before.
Joe Norris, EAA’s homebuilders community manager, perhaps said it best: “The new policy is very reflective of the thousands of comments that were sent in by EAA members and amateur builders across the board,” he said. “We feel that this new policy is not only a victory for EAA and homebuilders, but also a victory for FAA because it gives them better tools to enforce the regulation and make sure everyone is working under the same set of rules.”
EAA President Tom Poberezny said he is “extremely pleased” with the result. “It reinforces the importance of the amateur-built aircraft program to the overall aviation industry. It highlights the integrity of what has been accomplished over the years in terms of the amateur-built program, the development of kits, and overall safety,” he said. “It’s also an example of collaboration between members of the amateur-built community, EAA and government, specifically FAA.
“The final result is in the best interest of the aviation community too, and promotes the opportunity to design and build the airplane of your dreams.”
The changes to the policy address concerns about:
- Standards used to evaluate aircraft kits
- The level of builder participation
- Professional builder assistance
- A clearer definition of fabrication as it applies to the building process
The revised policy is a satisfying accomplishment for EAA, kit manufacturers, and builders who responded strongly to the first policy drafts issued by the FAA in 2008. Those drafts diverted from the initial recommendations of the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), comprised of FAA and industry representatives including EAA. In that proposed policy, the FAA would have required builders to provide documentation that they had complied with a three-part, percentage-based formula (known as 20-20-11) to ensure they had performed a majority of the “build” work on their aircraft.
The FAA proposal also included a “fabrication” requirement that was ill-defined and could have been hard to enforce. Additionally, kits already available from manufacturers were in danger of having to be modified to comply with the new percentage policy.
“If adopted, the FAA’s proposal would have a dampening effect on participation in amateur-building activities,” said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of industry and regulatory affairs. “That, in turn, would adversely affect kit manufacturers and suppliers of engines, parts, equipment, and accessories. A considerable segment of general aviation could have experienced a downturn.”
The response of EAA members and the amateur-built industry compelled the FAA to assemble a second ARC in the fall of 2008 to give further recommendations on a new policy. The just-released policy maintains many of the tenants of homebuilding that enthusiasts enjoy including:
- The privilege to build and fly almost any aircraft one can dream-up
- “Grandfathers” existing kits
- Creates a uniform standard for new kits to be approved
- Eliminates the proposed percentage-based build formula
- Defines “fabrication”
- Provides clearer guidelines for builders who hire professionals to assist with their project