Homebuilders have been a bit twitchy ever since the FAA formed an aviation rulemaking committee to take a look at the 51-percent rule (see Homebuilt Aircraft: How Much is More than Half?) Especially anxious were the manufacturers and builders of aircraft on the FAA’s list of “approved” kits. Would they have to resubmit them when the FAA launches its new evaluation procedures?
The FAA answered that question April 18 when it published a policy decision in the Federal Register. In short, it said the FAA will “not re-evaluate or remove any kits from the agency’s current eligibility list as a result of developing new evaluation procedures.”
It’s good news, but kit companies and builders shouldn’t give a total sigh of relief. The grandfathered kits, and those which will be evaluated under the new procedures, only determine whether a kit is eligible for certification as an amateur-built experimental aircraft. It does not guarantee it.
Earning that certification depends on building the kit “in accordance with FAA-evaluated assembly and instruction manuals,” the policy notice says. “Completion of a kit evaluation, however, is not, nor ever has been, a regulatory requirement.”
In other words, the builder must do all the work necessary to complete the kit. To quote the policy notice:
“The airworthiness certification process for these aircraft remains unchanged. The determination that an applicant has fabricated and assembled the major portion of an aircraft in accordance with Sec. 21.191(g), will continue to be accomplished when the aircraft is inspected for airworthiness certification” (emphasis added).
Nowhere in the notice does it say whether FAA inspectors and their designees will be taking a closer look at any and all commercial assistance involved in the construction of an amateur-built aircraft.
For a hint, I’d look at the FAA’s oversight of airline maintenance operations. And I’d remember that when one branch of the FAA is under the gun, they all are under the gun–and they act accordingly.
Homebuilders who embody the spirit and letter of the reg have nothing to fear, especially if they can clearly document their construction efforts. Those who push the boundaries might well remember that American Airlines grounded their MD-80 fleet to re-inspect wheel well cable straps to make sure they were exactly 1 inch apart, not 1.25 inches. –Scott Spangler