Paskiewicz, manager of the FAA’s Production and Airworthiness
Division, speaks at the 51% Forum. Photo by Phil Weston
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 yesterday afternoon at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
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
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.
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," he said.
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.’"
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 procedures.
officials responded to a long line of questions from the audience, some
of them clearly hostile to the FAA’s policy proposal.
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.
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.
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.
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.