Aggie Blackmer polishes Prospector, and aircraft designed and built by Fred Keller. The aircraft is now owned by Aggie's husband Bob Elliott.
Photo by Phil Weston
Two weeks ago, the FAA issued a proposed
new policy for administering and enforcing the 51 percent rule-the
requirement that an amateur aircraft builder must complete "the
major portion" of an amateur-built (A/B) aircraft. FAA officials
discussed the proposed new policy and the reasoning behind it at a
lively public forum attended by close to 200 people Monday afternoon at
EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
Created by the FAA in September 1952, the
amateur-built category makes it legal for ordinary people to design,
build, and fly their own aircraft. It places no limits on the kind of
aircraft an amateur builder can design and build, as long as the builder
builds the aircraft solely for his or her own education and recreation.
The amateur-built category also requires that the amateur builder
complete "the major portion" of the aircraft project. This
"major portion" requirement is known as the "51 percent
rule." Commercial builder assistance-construction assistance in
exchange for compensation-is allowed, but only if the amateur builder
completes at least 51 percent of the fabrication/construction tasks.
John Hickey, FAA director of aircraft
certification, opened the forum by expressing the FAA's
"empathy" with individuals and companies that may be adversely
affected by a new FAA policy. But, he said, the FAA is charged with
ensuring the safety of aviation and regulating both amateur and
commercial aviation activities. "We have absolutely no intent of
doing away with the amateur-built rule," he said, but, he added,
there are aircraft out there that are not built to A/B standards that
people are trying to certify as A/B aircraft. Those aircraft he said are
effectively unregulated-there is no existing aircraft category into
which they fit.
The FAA wants to get back to the original
intent of the amateur-built rule, Hickey said. "We cannot continue
to support or tolerate a group of aircraft that are not regulated,"
The new policy will mean tighter
enforcement of the 51 percent rule, he added. "I ask that you be
open-minded, that you look at the proposed policy, and that you submit
thoughtful comments. I assure you that during the public comment period,
the proposed policy is absolutely not a 'done deal.'"
Frank Pasklewicz, manager of the FAA's
Production & Airworthiness Division, listed key reasons for revising
the amateur-built policy: commercial builder assistance is a reality
that didn't exist when the A/B rule was created; the FAA's A/B policies
are outdated because of changes in the A/B marketplace; and the agency
needs to exercise more consistency in its A/B inspections and
Agency officials responded to a long line
of questions from the audience, some of them clearly hostile to the
FAA's policy proposal.
The proposed new policy would require that an amateur builder
"fabricate" at least 20 percent of any A/B project. Some in
the audience argued that that is really a new rule. Pasklewicz responded
that the FAA has always assumed that amateur building required some
portion of fabrication, and there was a strong precedent for setting
that at 25 percent of the overall project. In the proposed new rule, the
FAA settled on a standard of 20 percent based on a study, with
manufacturers' assistance, of four aircraft kits. But when asked how the
FAA defined "fabrication," as opposed to "assembly,"
the agency officials did not have a clear answer-a fact that clearly
angered some in the audience.
Several people raised questions about
composite aircraft kits, some of which would possibly be disqualified
from A/B status under the proposed policy. Others raised questions about
the role and effectiveness of the A/B rule in assuring safety. One
questioner suggested that the solution was not to specify who built an
aircraft but how it was built: put limits on speed, altitude, gross
weight, and other factors, but not on who builds the aircraft, he said.
Hickey responded: "The intent of the
51 percent rule is not focused on safety. The foundation of the rule is
allowing you to build an airplane in your garage and fly it." Bring
in commercial ventures, he said, and you enter a whole new level of
regulation. "There is no in-between; no regulations govern
that," he added.
EAA will present its position on the
proposed policy at 10 a.m. today in Forum Pavilion 10. At EAA's request,
the FAA has extended the comment period for the proposed new policy on
the 51 percent rule until September 30, 2008. Go to www.FAA.gov
to comment on the proposal. And visit www.EAA.org/govt
for the latest news on this critical issue.