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Tales From the DAR Side

By Joe Norris, EAA Lifetime 113615, EAA Flight Training Manager

May 2017 - As homebuilding gained popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, homebuilders found it more and more difficult to get an FAA inspector to perform their airworthiness inspection in a timely manner. The FAA was sending more builders to designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) to perform their inspections. This helped with the timeline but hurt the pocketbook, as DARs were not government employees and thus were not funded by taxpayer dollars.

The issue of getting timely inspections was about to turn critical in the early 2000s, with the impending implementation of the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rules, which called for the conversion of many existing two-seat ultralight trainers to experimental light-sport aircraft. To find a solution, EAA worked with the FAA to forge a new path for industry experts, not just retired FAA personnel, to become DARs. New qualification criteria were developed and put in place by the FAA, and new training courses were created through cooperation between the FAA, EAA, and the Transportation Safety Institute. Thus was born a completely new body of DARs that were specifically focused on the amateur-built and light-sport community.

Now here we are, 15 years down the road. Many new DARs were created as a result of the program, and amateur-built and light-sport aircraft builders/owners were able to get their aircraft inspected in a timely manner by these AB-DARs, as they have come to be known in the aviation community. But it’s not time to sit back and rest! There is an ongoing need for qualified people to step up to the plate and become DARs so they can share their knowledge and expertise with the amateur-built and light-sport community.

So what does it take to become a DAR for amateur-built and light-sport aircraft? I’m glad you asked! The basic qualifications have not changed since the program was created: An applicant must meet one of the following criteria.

  • Be an A&P mechanic and have performed at least three condition inspections on experimental amateur-built (E-AB) aircraft.
  • Hold an E-AB repairman certificate and have performed at least three condition inspections. The aircraft must have operated for at least 100 hours.
  • Be a retired FAA inspector who has issued at least three E-AB airworthiness certificates.

Info on the complete application process can be found on EAA’s website.

When you visit that webpage, you will notice that EAA still offers a grant of $1,000 toward the expense of the initial DAR training, provided the applicant agrees to perform inspections as a “volunteer” for at least two years. A great benefit of performing inspections as a volunteer is that you get liability coverage under the Volunteer Protection Act. Info on the Volunteer Protection Act is available on the webpage.

I mentioned training, and that’s where the AB-DAR program has changed somewhat since its inception. Originally, there was a specific training course for amateur-built and light-sport DAR applicants conducted at the FAA’s training campus in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Since the program was new, there were a fair number of applicants, which made a specific training course economical. But as time has gone on, the number of applicants has dropped off, so the training program has been remodeled to make better use of FAA resources.

As you may expect in this day and age, much of the training has been moved online. Also, the amateur-built and light-sport DAR applicants are moved through the same training regimen as applicants for other DAR functions. The training for every applicant starts with a very comprehensive online course that covers all DAR functions for both standard and special airworthiness certificates. The applicant is required to pass the tests associated with these online courses before they can register for the “face-to-face” training in Oklahoma City. Like the initial online course, the face-to-face training covers the broad spectrum of DAR activities.

Once AB-DAR applicants complete the face-to-face training, they come back home and take one more online course that is specific to amateur-built and light-sport aircraft. Passing the exam at the end of this online course completes their training and makes them eligible for appointment by their local FAA office, be it a manufacturing inspection district office or flight standards district office.

It may sound daunting, but the courses really aren’t that bad. Both the online and face-to-face courses are well-put together and very informative, and all the tests are open book, so applicants should have no problem passing the final exams.

There is always a need for new DARs, so if you feel you would like to help out your fellow builders by becoming a DAR, I encourage you to look into the program. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call me at EAA headquarters. I’ll be happy to help you get started!

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