By Bill Bolosky
Attending the meeting about the new Sport Pilot proposed rule from the FAA were Mike Henry, FAA Manager of General Aviation, Sue Gardner, overseer of the NPRM, and Scott Sedgewick from the Operations Office in Kansas City. Representing the USHPA were President Jim Zeiset, Executive Director Jayne DePanfilis, Director Bill Bryden, Mike Meier of Wills Wing and I.
Many of us have had legitimate concerns that the proposed Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rule, if implemented, would limit our ability to aerotow and to fly tandem. Currently, these operations are conducted under exemptions from FAR part 103 that have been in effect for 20 years. The NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) states that it is the intention of the FAA to stop issuing long-term exemptions such as these. Furthermore, the NPRM is not worded in a way that would allow Sport Pilots to operate tow planes. This is the source of the worry that this rule may have serious adverse consequences.
The essence of the message conveyed to us was that the FAA in no way desires to compromise hang gliding aerotow or hang gliding and paragliding tandem operations. Sue Gardner said that the FAA understands that we have an excellent safety record and a quality program, and that they do not want to stop us. The current Sport Pilot proposal would not allow aerotowing, but the FAA representatives discussed several options for accommodating aerotowing that ranged from a new exemption to altering the proposed rules to permit towing. They also indicated that after completion of the Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rules they wanted to then address limited-commercial operations in light sport aircraft.
Tandem is a different issue. There is currently no intention by the FAA to change Part 103. The NPRM states that the FAA desires to eliminate long-term exemptions, however, the FAA representatives indicated that they clearly do not desire to eliminate our two-place exemption. They did discuss the possibility that it could be converted to a Letter of Deviation Authority or possibly handled in some other fashion. A Letter of Deviation Authority is approved by (and renewed by) the Flight Standards group at the FAA, rather than through the exemption process which is handled by wider array of people, some of whom may be less friendly toward us.
There will be a follow-up meeting between the USHPA and the FAA at Sun-n-Fun in April to discuss the details of the plan in order to make the necessary legal requests to have the new exemption and deviation approved. We will continue to report to the membership on the progress of this process.
Many of us came away from our multiple sessions with the FAA with the optimistic viewpoint that our current operations will not only be preserved, but finally be made legal in all phases. However, the ARAC process in which we have participated since 1993 indicates that the final results the FAA produces are not always what was envisioned. The process of final rulemaking will take several years. It could well be that the personnel responsible for the rule will change, along with the attitude and intentions of the FAA. Therefore, we are convinced that we cannot be lulled into inaction at this point.
We believe that it will be appropriate for USHPA members to send in formal comments to address the problems with the proposed rule. However, the comments that the membership makes will be more useful if they're made in light of the results of the USHPA/FAA meeting scheduled to take place in April. Therefore, we suggest that you wait to send in your final, formal comments until you hear from us in mid-April. The comment period extends until May 6, 2002, so there will still be several weeks left to do a good job with the final versions. Of course, the sooner you read the NPRM, the more time you'll have to mull over exactly what's been proposed and what you'd like to see happen in the final rule.
When the final version of the USHPA comments are ready, we will make them widely available to interested pilots by posting them on our website and providing links in all of the usual email lists. We hope to have them ready shortly after the April meeting. If any members have ideas that they would like to see in the comments from the USHPA, please Contact us.