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Making a MOSAIC to Modernize Homebuilt Certification

August 9, 2018 - The more than 1,100 amateur-built aircraft at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2018 spanned the nearly 70-year history of the modern homebuilt movement, from vintage Pietenpols to the latest prototypes and kits that feature state-of-the-art technology. One thing that has not changed, though, are the basic regulations that have governed the certification of amateur-built aircraft since the early 1950s.

The majority of airplanes now in the FAA’s experimental category are not experiments. They are time-tested designs with thousands of flying examples that have complete, standardized components and certification processes. Using that as a foundation, EAA’s government staff, Homebuilt Aircraft Council, and Safety Committee was joined by the Vintage Aircraft Association and Warbirds of America for an in-depth meeting with FAA officials during AirVenture to explore modernizing the current special airworthiness process and framework as written under FAR 91.319. It took several years of behind-the-scenes legwork to come to this point.

The original concept was called “Permit to Fly” but has evolved into a more inclusive title:  Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates (MOSAIC). That is a fitting name, given the wide spectrum of aircraft that are part of the experimental category, especially the amateur-built segment, which is the fastest-growing part of the general aviation fleet.

“The original homebuilt regulations from the 1950s supplied the essential foundation that has proven to spark an entire segment of sport aviation,” said Sean Elliott, EAA’s vice president of advocacy and safety. “We now have decades of data that show the most common and prolific homebuilts have known handling characteristics and excellent safety records that rival type-certificated aircraft. With this data in hand, we can now start to explore how to differentiate certification requirements for these common homebuilts when compared to truly original designs and concepts.”

The modernization project, which has received positive initial response from top FAA officials, is based on a specific list of goals and outcomes that must be achieved. Foremost among them is that any modernization of certification cannot create a more restrictive environment for homebuilders. The aim is to relieve builders of well-proven homebuilts of some of the burdens that have limited their aircrafts’ use and flexibility but not enhanced safety.

“Our priority is to create a risk-based assessment for experimental aircraft and apply operating limitations based on actual risk, not an arbitrary standard, and allow more amateur-built aircraft to operate with fewer restrictions and limitations,” Elliott said. “It is a natural step given the proven and continuing high level of safety within the homebuilt community. This rulemaking initiative, along with redefining light-sport aircraft, is one of EAA’s top priorities over the next two years.”

Also in discussion are the possibilities of certification for amateur-built aircraft constructed via builder assistance centers and those completed by contract builders. EAA is helping to frame the project and develop risk analysis tools prior to the official start of FAA rulemaking, during which the agency cannot accept input from any outside source before an official public comment period.

Elliott will discuss additional background on MOSAIC in the September issue of Sport Aviation magazine.

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