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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedAirVenture crowd skeptical of enforcement proposals on 51 percent rule

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," 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.'"

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 procedures.

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.


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