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Homebuilding's Challenge

The role of commercial assistance


by Tom Poberezny

The homebuilt aircraft movement has grown and matured since the experimental amateur-built category was created in 1952. The opportunity for creativity offered by the amateur-built regulations has fostered innovation, resulting in significant contributions to aircraft design. The impact of homebuilding has permeated all segments of aviation, far exceeding the expectations of those who wrote and supported the original rule. Homebuilt aircraft now number approximately 20 percent of the general aviation fleet. The quality of workmanship improves year after year, and more innovative aircraft designs continue to be developed.

But, the homebuilt community is facing a challenge. In some cases, the use of commercial assistance is exceeding what’s allowed under the rule. Some builders are not completing the 51 percent required to be in compliance. To address this issue, the FAA established an amateur-built aircraft Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in late 2006 to examine homebuilt activities and make appropriate recommendations. The committee was co-chaired by the FAA, along with Earl Lawrence, EAA’s vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, and Dick VanGrunsven, designer of the RV line of homebuilts and founder of Van’s Aircraft, the world’s largest airplane kit manufacturer.

We reported on this committee’s activities on our website, www.EAA.org, and in EAA Sport Aviation. Recently, Dick shared his views in his company’s newsletter, The RVator. We asked permission to reprint his report (see page 102) because it’s important that you hear the perspective of a recognized industry leader. I’d like to share a few of his thoughts:

“We are all familiar with homebuilts and homebuilding from our involvement in EAA…. We all have experienced the great joy and satisfaction of building and flying homebuilt aircraft, and relating with each other in our special world. We see amateur-built aircraft as overwhelmingly positive. We are insiders; we know and understand this specialized segment of aviation. But what about those on the outside who do not have the background and awareness to appreciate the merits of our world?

“Consider the viewpoint of those in the highest levels of the FAA or perhaps in Congress. They might ask, ‘What’s this we hear about this special category of experimental airplanes that are not required to meet normal design and manufacturing standards? I hear there are now more than 25,000 of them registered, and that some of them are being commercially built. How safe are they?

“…What would you do if you were the FAA and had been directed to ‘do something’? What rules and policies would you make that would accommodate the greatest proportion of your constituency and still address the problems that concern you and those whom you answer to?”

Imagine what the general public’s reaction to this issue might be. This highlights the challenges homebuilding faces.

EAA was founded to provide a community for homebuilders to share experiences and information. One of EAA’s major missions has been to protect the privilege to design and build our own aircraft. Because of EAA’s efforts, especially in the areas of safety and education, the amateur-built rule has remained intact and vibrant for 56 years.

The flexibility of the amateur-built rule is one of its key benefits; that’s what allows innovation and creativity to flourish. The price of that flexibility is the builder must complete 51 percent or more of the work. Commercial assistance is allowed; the FAA accepts 49 percent kits. Beyond that, if the complexity of a design requires more assistance, there are other regulatory alternatives for manufacturers. Using the amateur-built rule to circumvent the type certification process puts homebuilding in jeopardy.

The work of the ARC is concluded, and it has forwarded its recommendations to the FAA. We await publication of the FAA’s response in the Federal Register. We will publish the FAA’s report, provide an analysis, and ask you to respond.

Our commitment to you is that EAA will continue to be the guardian of the amateur-built movement in the future, just as we have for the past 56 years.

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