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Improving Phase I Flight Testing

EAA/FAA Summit brings good ideas to table for further study

February 22, 2017 — One of the more intriguing outcomes from last week’s EAA/FAA Recreational Aviation Summit was the traction gained on possibilities for improving the Phase I flight testing process for amateur-built aircraft, using risk assessments and detailed flight test plans rather than simply an hours-flown minimum.

“As we look for ways to further improve safety, especially during early flight testing for homebuilts, moving toward accepting detailed flight plans that address specific requirements is a direction that is very appealing,” said Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety. “It would move away from concentrating only on hours-flown minimums to a foundation built on safety results.”

This remains a concept at this time, and the 25- to 40-hour flight test minimums for homebuilts will remain unchanged for the immediate future. In EAA’s role as co-chair of the GA Joint Steering Committee, however, the organization has discussed ways to incorporate more meaningful outcomes as a part of that flight testing.

For instance, following a detailed flight test plan during initial testing could create a database that could become a pilot operating handbook (POH) for common homebuilt models. Even those unique amateur-built aircraft could benefit from such knowledge, particularly for subsequent owners of that aircraft or those building similar aircraft.

“There’s a ways to go on this, but these are exactly the ideas and thinking that make the EAA/FAA summit so valuable each year, as it goes beyond brainstorming to concrete ideas to pursue,” Elliott said. “The goal here is crafting flight test protocols where a builder would know exactly what is needed to get the aircraft performance that is desired.” 

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