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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedAmateur builders anticipate final report on policy changes for 51% rule
By David Sakrison, EAA AirVenture Today

July 31, 2009 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin  - EAA and amateur aircraft builders are anticipating a victory when the FAA publishes its final report, slated for August 17, on changes in agency policies for administering the Amateur Built Aircraft rules. Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president for government and industry relations, said the draft final report leaves intact an amateur builder's freedom to build any kind of aircraft, of any type, size, and complexity, so long as he or she completes "the major portion" of the project-the "51% Rule."

The draft report would also preserve the option for commercial builder assistance and affirms that existing amateur-built kits would be grandfathered to minimize the impact of FAA policy changes on kit manufacturers and amateur builders and to ensure a fair transition to the new policies over time.

The draft report abandons the so-called "20/20/11" formula. Last year the agency proposed requiring amateur builders to show that at least 20 percent of the amateur-built project involved "fabrication," and no more than 20 percent involved "assembly," with the remaining 11 percent (up to a total of 51 percent) could be a combination of fabrication and assembly. EAA and amateur builders argued that the proposed policy did not draw a clear distinction between fabrication and assembly, and moreover, that the 20/20/11 would be unnecessarily complicated and would do little to curb abuses of the 51% Rule.

The draft report defines "fabrication" in more detail:
  "...to perform work on any material, part or component, such as layout, bending, countersinking, straightening, cutting, sewing, gluing/bonding, lay-up, forming, shaping, trimming, drilling, de-burring, machining, applying protective coatings, surface preparation and priming, riveting, welding or heat treating, transforming the material, part or component toward or into its finished state."

Along with the new definition, the draft report calls for the FAA to update the amateur-built construction checklist for each kit on the FAA approved kits list. The existing checklists use a "did it/didn't do it" format for each task. The new checklists would allow the builder to document his or her contribution to each task in more detail, without unduly complicating the process of record keeping.

Under the draft report, the FAA would also establish a National Kit Evaluation Team (NKET) to evaluate new and existing kits to determine their conformity with the 51% Rule. (Kits that are already on the FAA's list of approved kits will NOT be re-evaluated.) A single team evaluating about 20 kits a year should provide quicker and more consistent evaluations of kits at a lower cost to manufacturers. Finally the draft report also notes that previously type-certificated (TC) aircraft that have been altered, modified, or repaired cannot be certificated as experimental amateur-builts-that converting a TC aircraft to an experimental does not meet the 51% Rule.

Two years ago, FAA officials argued that new policies on amateur-built aircraft were needed to curb abuses of the 51% Rule, especially abuses involving commercial builder assistance. The agency chartered an Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), co-chaired by Lawrence and Van's Aircraft founder Dick Van Grunsven, to consider what policy changes were needed. After the FAA issued its proposed policy changes in July 2008, thousands of EAA members and other amateur builders commented, overwhelmingly in opposition to the FAA proposal. The ARC reconvened in early 2009 to consider all the comments.

"The draft report embodies many of the ARC's recommendations," said Lawrence. "Last year, EAA amateur builders argued that the FAA could effectively curb abuses of the 51% Rule by consistently enforcing the rules and policies then in place. The new policies adopted by the FAA will help amateur-builders to document their projects more accurately and help the FAA to enforce the 51% more consistently, without unnecessarily complicating the lives of amateur builders."

Van Grunsven said that EAA and industry participation in shaping the new policy draft "was very beneficial. If the FAA had just gone off into its smoke-filled room to do this, I can't imagine what might have happened."

Joe Bartell, president of Lancair Aircraft, told the audience, "Without EAA, this would not have taken place."

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