Proposed Policy Doesn’t Solve Homebuilt Problem

By Scott Spangler on September 15th, 2008

If my homebuilding buddies are a typical sample of the amateur-built airplane community, there’s a lot of confusion about what led to the new policy the FAA has proposed. (See Homebuilt Aircraft: How Much is More than Half?)

My friends are solid, however, on the effect of the new policy: it will make do-it-yourself aviation more complicated and bureaucratic than it needs to be. The existing rule is clear and concise: you must build more than half the airplane for your own recreation an education. Paying someone to do it for you doesn’t count. (Would you pay someone to take your vacation?)

The proposal makes the same requirements buried in bureaucracy.  One example: builders must “fabricate” a minimum percentage, and “assemble” another minimum, and the proposal doesn’t bother to give the accepted FAA definition of either term.

What’s really sad is that the proposal won’t solve the problem the FAA asked the aviation rulemaking committee to solve: How do we stop people from paying professional builders to fabricate and assembly high performance homebuilt aircraft that give better performance than their store-bought cousins for a fraction of the cost?

JetWhine-Lancair-Evolution Herein lies the confusion. My buddies, most of the scratch builders, are blaming the new policy on airplanes like the Van’s RV-10 or turbine-powered Lancair Evolution. To paraphrase their misdirected words, “Inserting Tab A into Slot B is not homebuilding!”

Tuckered out from creating their whirlwind of invective, I got a word in and pointed out that the problem WAS NOT the airplanes. It was people who bought them, hired professionals to build them, then signed their name on the form that said they built 51 percent of the airplane for their own education and recreation.

The last line of defense in maintaining the spirit and letter of the 51-percent rule, which has served aviation well for more than half a century, is the FAA inspector or a designated representative who inspects the paperwork and airplane and issues the amateur-built experimental aircraft airworthiness certificate.

Repressurizing their whirlwind with grunts and snorts they make it clear that complicating the application process with percentages of assembly and fabrication won’t change a thing. People can manipulate paperwork to support anything they want, “Just ask anyone involved with Enron,” says one. “Yeah,” says another. “It just means the hired guns will charge more for the paperwork that gets the homebuilt airworthiness ticket.”

FAA-Logo As the pressure climbed I did my best to redirect it in a productive direction. Popping off at the airport changes nothing because the FAA doesn’t have every hangar bugged. Tell them directly, in writing, I suggested.

You have until September 30 to tell the FAA what you think of its new policy for homebuilts and make suggestions for achieving the desired result without making life miserable for the majority of people who live within the spirit and letter of the existing regs. And if you need help, visit the EAA website; it has everything you need to share your thoughts with the FAA. — Scott Spangler

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3 Responses to “Proposed Policy Doesn’t Solve Homebuilt Problem”

  1. Withheld by Request Says:

    Rob and Scott:

    Why doesnt the industry just spell it out: the FAAs interest in this subject has a lot to do with some specific aircraft. If the FAA has a problem with a specific builder, do something about that.

    If the industry is worried about the FAA creating onerous new rules, then it should try to weed out miscreants. Does anyone really think that some of those buyers actually build even a tiny percentage of their airplanes?

  2. Gig Giacona Says:

    The real way to deal with this problem is do a Google search for Airplane Builder’s Assistance Program. Go to the location and see the plane they are currently building for someone and then wait until that idiot tries to get an Airworthiness Certificate. The moment he hands in the form that says he built 51% of the plane slap the cuffs on him because he has just committed perjury. Repeat and publicize the results until the so called assistance programs dry up and blow away. I’m betting 2 convictions will do it.

  3. Scott Says:

    Both excellent ideas but, honestly, they won’t work. Even though both FAA and the industry are working toward the same goal, the politics of wanting the other side to be the “bad guy.”

    Realistically, in a free-market system there’s nothing industry members can do to weed out the miscreants. Government enforcement of existing regulations–snapping the cuffs on “paper 51-percenters” for their perjury–seems to be the best solution.

    To support this enforcement effort, the FAA should go after professional builders who have built five or more airplanes and prosecute them for operating a manufacturing facility without a production certificate.

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