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Sightseeing Operations and Others Impacted by Potential Changes

EAA has joined with seven other groups to highlight concerns with one section of the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill, which if unchanged, could significantly impact thousands of small aviation businesses and non-profit entities. The groups recently sent letters to the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee articulating the impact this section would have on general aviation operators, airports, and local businesses that benefit from these activities.

Language in the Senate FAA Reauthorization bill (S. 1939) that passed the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation includes section 315, Air Tour and Sport Parachuting Safety. This section, if unchanged, would require that within three years of enactment, all commercial air tour operators hold an Air Agency Certificate per 14 CFR Part 119 and conduct all operations under the applicable parts of 14 CFR Parts 121 or 135. The section defines commercial air tours as “a flight conducted for compensation or hire in an airplane or helicopter where a purpose of the flight is sightseeing.” This section also directs the FAA to consider changes to sport parachuting operations that could add requirements that significantly increase costs.

Many general aviation operators that safely conduct local non-stop sightseeing flights per 14 CFR 91.147 and a Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued by the FAA are small businesses or, in some cases, non-profit entities. These include flight schools as well as regional aviation museums that offer sightseeing flights, providing important positive experiences that connect general aviation airports and the public. The commercial contribution to the local communities through jobs, fuel sales, maintenance, and money spent by visitors at local businesses, including restaurants and stores, benefits not only the airports but also the surrounding communities.

For most of these small businesses, obtaining an Air Agency Certificate is either financially unrealistic or operationally extremely difficult if not impossible. The FAA’s recent Safety Management System Notice of Proposed Rulemaking indicated that there are 694 commercial air tour operators (holders of 14 CFR 91.147 Letters of Authorization), of which 362 only have one aircraft, making it financially difficult to justify the application process. Many of the aviation museums and non-profit operators who provide rides as part of interpreting the history of aviation use older aircraft that are not eligible for inclusion on an Air Agency Certificate. The House, when passing the "Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act” (H.R. 3935) in July, did not include any similar provisions. The versions of these two bills will need to be conferenced between the House and Senate and the differences worked through to develop a single bill.

The letters included EAA, AOPA, Commemorative Air Force, National Warbird Operators Conference, Parachute Industry Association, Professional Warbird Operators Association, United States Parachute Association, and EAA Warbirds of America.

Operators and those businesses affected by this language are encouraged to contact their senators and representatives and tell them the impacts this language, if not deleted or modified, would have on their operations. Contact information can be found here.

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