Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013

Most technicians are not thinking too much about this piece of recent legislation. It is a sleeper but, to be sure, it will affect every one of us in many ways that we are not aware of … at this point, nothing negative and all favorable on the surface.

The bill

The legislation is designed primarily to provide an easier route for the certification of new aircraft designs to avoid all the government hassles that are involved with making new light aircraft in accord with the type certification requirements of FAR Part 23. The intent is to make for a rapid and simpler process to production of new light airplanes. At the same time, it will include a process to include certification and maintenance of existing small aircraft to be maintained and upgraded and will provide the means for owners to reduce the costs of maintaining their light aircraft. This part will apply to type certified light small aircraft, those with less than 200 horsepower and some gross weight number not unlike the light sport aircraft category (LSA) which is a separate and distinct area with its own regulatory status.

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill last July, with absolutely no opposition, all in favor. It went on to the Senate and the Senate also approved the bill. It only remains to be approved by the executive branch before being passed on to the FAA for preparation of an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) and publication in the Federal Register of the details. The schedule is set to have the legislation effective by December of 2015.

Main point

The gist of the Bill is to ensure that less-complicated airplanes would not be subjected to the same certification and maintenance rules of more complicated engines and airframes. This would of course reduce certification maintenance costs considerably.

Like the Light Sport Airplane (LSA)  rules, the FAA would use consensus based standards that provide for outcome-driven objectives in designing these rules. This is more simply described as the groups of people most affected sitting down and setting out by agreement what the rules will be without regulatory pressures and less oversight by government. The object being to separate less-complicated aircraft from the complex rules that govern more sophisticated airplanes.

Highlights of the bill's Congressional findings:

  1. A healthy small aircraft industry is integral to economic growth
  2. Small aircraft comprise nearly 90 percent of FAA general aviation aircraft
  3. General aviation provides for the cultivation of aviation professionals
  4. General aviation contributes to well paying jobs
  5. Technology developed by general aviation aids all sectors of the aviation field
  6. The average small airplane in the United States is now 40 years old and regulatory barriers to bringing new designs to market and maintaining older ones are impeding development
  7. Over this past decade, the United States has typically lost 10,000 active private pilots per year, partially due to a lack of cost-effective small airplanes
  8. General aviation safety can be improved by modernizing and revamping the regulations in this sector to retrofit the existing fleet with new safety technologies

The new proposed legislation, H.R. 1848 directs the Administrator of the FAA to issue a final rule by Dec. 31, 2015, based on the recommendations of the FAA’s Part 23 Reorganization Rulemaking Committee. The final rule must create a regulatory regime for small airplanes that will improve safety and decrease certification and maintenance costs; it must set broad safety objectives, that will spur innovation and technology; replace current prescriptive requirements contained in FAA rules with performance-based regulations based on joint group consensus standards, and clarify how the Part 23 safety objectives may be met by specific designs and technologies.

It is important to note how this legislation is effectively detailed and brought forward by the FAA’s Part 23 Reorganization Rulemaking Committee which is made up of many of the stakeholders and members of active general aviation operations and maintenance sectors, who represent the people who will be affected by the new rules.

Consensus standards

The bill defines consensus standards as follows: The term “consensus standards” means standards (regulations) developed by voluntary organizations (voluntary rulemaking committee) which plan, develop, establish, or coordinate voluntary standards using agreed upon procedures, both domestic and international.

Webster’s Dictionary defines consensus as “Group solidarity, in sentiment and belief, general agreement, unanimity of opinion.”

Certification and maintenance of existing airplanes

One of the more interesting proposals that could be included in the final rule is in regard to maintenance of the older, simple, existing general aviation light aircraft, usually defined as those of less than 200 horsepower and gross weights of less than 2,000 pounds. In order to reduce the cost of maintaining these simpler airplanes, the owners would be allowed to perform their own maintenance on their own aircraft when they can show that they are competent to do so, not unlike the large experimental group where owner-builders maintain their own airplanes subject to an annual condition inspection. AMTs would be permitted to perform such inspections on all “light aircraft” that fit in a group similar to the light sport group. AMTs would be permitted to inspect these aircraft and declare them airworthy without the current common “inspection authorization.” All AMTs would be permitted to perform this function. This would of course leave the rest of the more complex general aviation fleet to the authorized IAs for inspection as is currently in place.

Furthermore, following the bill's mandate of “clearing the path for technology adoption and cost-effective means to maintain and retrofit the older light general aviation” airplanes, allowing owners to maintain their own aircraft, like the experimental group, will bring their costs down and encourage the preservation and updating of these older aircraft. Further, with the aid of the AMT community, continued airworthiness of these aircraft can be secured.

Airplane owners and AMTs should write to their representatives who belong to the General Aviation Caucus group and to the author of H.R. 1848, Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) supporting the legislation and urging its enactment as soon as possible.

In addition, the FAA should be urged to make a driver's license sufficient medical approval for operation of all the airplanes included in the light airplane designation just like the light sport aircraft driver license for medical approval. Type certification should not prevent the driver's license/medical; the aircraft are all at least similar in performance and weights. Also, we should note that AOPA is still pressing its position that the third-class medical should be just done away with for private pilots. This would be the ultimate solution, but the plan is still on the FAA’s table with no action so far in sight. Urge your representatives to support this change also.

House of Representatives General Aviation Caucus

We should all keep in mind that at the present time more than half of the 435 members of the House of Representatives now belong to the General Aviation Caucus. This is a powerful lobbying group for general aviation matters. These men and women are very familiar with aviation matters and general aviation in particular. The group co-chairs are Sam Graves (R-MO) and John Barrow (D-GA). There are currently 223 members of the caucus. Contact these men and women to express your interest in this legislation and your thoughts on the content and how it should be implemented.

Be sure and watch for the Notice of Proposed Rule Making and be prepared to respond and comment on it. We sure will.

Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney with an Airframe and Powerplant certificate, is an ATP rated pilot, and is a USAF veteran. Send comments to: aerolaw@att.net.

 

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