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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 4 July 30, 2008     

Enforce existing 51% rule, say amateur-aircraft builders
By David Sakrison

EAA’s Earl Lawrence discusses efforts of the association’s Homebuilders Council regarding the new FAA proposal to redefine the 51-percent rule during a Forums session Tuesday at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008. Photo by Dave Higdon

"We don’t need any new regulations [on the 51 percent rule]; the FAA just needs to enforce the rules it has in place." That was the strong consensus at a forum attended by more than 200 amateur-aircraft builders and manufacturers on Tuesday morning. The forum summarized EAA’s position on the FAA’s proposed new policy for administering and enforcing the 51 percent rule—the requirement that amateur builders complete "the major portion" of an amateur-built aircraft. The forum was led by Earl Lawrence, EAA’s vice president of industry and government relations, and Joe Norris, EAA’s homebuilders’ community manager. Lawrence and Norris summarized the EAA’s position on the 51 percent rule and the FAA’s proposed new policies.

"Our goal, first and foremost, is to protect your rights and privileges as an amateur aircraft builder," said Lawrence. The U.S., he said, is one of the only places where an amateur builder can build an aircraft with no limits on the size and power of the aircraft. "The issue, as we see it," he said, "is people who are having their aircraft built for them—who are not building a true amateur-built aircraft."

"We want to see the kit manufacturers be able to continue to innovate," said Norris. "And we want to preserve the ability of individuals to use their own inventiveness" in designing and building amateur-built aircraft. "We want to make sure that abuses of the rule are addressed without placing new restrictions and burdens on amateur builders," he added.

The FAA regulation requires that "the major portion of fabrication and assembly" of the aircraft must be completed by the amateur builder. Under the FAA’s proposed new policy, the builder would have to show that at least 20 percent of an amateur-built project involved fabrication—"creating a part from raw stock"—and no more than 20 percent was assembly, completed by the amateur builder. The remaining 11 percent (out of the builder’s required 51 percent) could be a mixture of fabrication and assembly. In defense of this policy proposal, the FAA has cited prior policy that says that at least 25 percent of the project must be fabricated and no more than 25 percent can be assembly of prefabricated parts.

Lawrence pointed to an earlier FAA policy on amateur-built aircraft which "says it’s not possible to differentiate between fabrication and assembly. It’s a judgment call."

"We don’t believe we have to be concerned about the distinction between fabrication and assembly," Lawrence added. "What we need is a way to show 51 percent without getting into percentages."

Homebuilt Aircraft Council (HAC) member Joe Gauthier told the crowd that, in the future, builders’ logs and construction records will be critical for getting homebuilt projects approved for certification as amateur-built aircraft. "The builder must show, and the inspector must find that the 51 percent rule has been met," he said. "This is not new. It’s documentation we have always asked for, and rarely seen in sufficient measure."

Wally Anderson, also an HAC member, noted: "If we lock ourselves into percentages, some kits we’re building now won’t make it." But somehow, he added, "we have to stop these [commercially-built] airplanes from getting through [into the amateur-built category] if we want to save the amateur-built rule."

The core concern, said Lawrence, is people who are circumventing the rule, trying to get into the amateur built category aircraft that are really commercially built. The risk, one amateur builder told the gathering, is not from professional commercial builder assistance, but from "cottage builders" who are circumventing the rule.

Another amateur builder received loud and sustained applause when he told the gathering, "We don’t need any new regulations; the existing regulations are just fine. Lying to the FAA is a federal crime and grounds for revocation of every certificate you hold. We want you to take those people and put them in jail."

HAC Chairman Doug Kelly urged amateur builders to share their comments and ideas with the FAA. Anderson added: "We have until September 30th [2008] to comment on the proposed policy. Send a comment [to EAA or the FAA]; you can make a difference."

"The constructive side of criticism is really important at this time," said Kelly. The foundation of the amateur-built rule, he said is that it is intended "solely for education or recreation," not for commercial gain, or to accelerate the completion of an aircraft project. "Let’s foster it; let’s be constructive," he added. "Don’t endanger the basic [amateur-built] rule."

To learn more about the 51 percent rule, the FAA’s proposed new policy, and EAA’s analysis of the proposal, or to submit a comment on the FAA proposal, visit the Welcome Center at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh or, on the Internet, visit www.EAA.org/govt.

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