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On February 13, 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published in the Federal Register its long-awaited National Air Tour Safety Standards Final Rule. The rule, which takes effect March 15, 2007, establishes a new §91.147 that requires each operator conducting nonstop commercial sightseeing flights within a 25-statute-mile radius of an airport to obtain a letter of authorization (LOA) from the FAA by September 11, 2007.
This final rule also establishes a new §91.146 for charitable, nonprofit, and community event flights, allowing them to continue to operate under part 91 without having to comply with FAA drug and alcohol testing requirements. All sightseeing operators must comply with new passenger briefing and life preserver (for over-water flights) requirements.
The FAA's proposal will likely shrink the pool of pilots able to help local charities with fundraising flights. The new rule raises the minimum number of hours required for private pilots conducting charity fundraising flights from 200 to 500. Charitable, nonprofit, and community event sponsors will be allowed to continue conducting nonstop sightseeing flights within 25 statute miles of their home airport without having to comply with drug and alcohol testing requirements. Charity and nonprofit event sponsors and their pilots are limited to four events each calendar year. Community event sponsors and their pilots are limited to one event per calendar year. An "event" may involve several flights but may not last more than three consecutive days. Accordingly, pilots are limited to 12 days of flying in charity events or three days of flying in community events each calendar year.
Commercial sightseeing operators conducting flights under a new §91.147 will have to apply for and receive an LOA from the FAA by September 11, 2007. As part of the LOA application, operators must show proof of registration in an FAA-approved Antidrug and Alcohol Misuse Prevention Program.
The FAA has released its long-awaited commercial air tour, charity, and sightseeing rule.
"General aviation pilots can continue to conduct for-profit sightseeing flights within a 25-statute-mile radius of their departure point under Part 91 regulations," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "AOPA had argued strongly to keep these operations from being lumped into commercial Part 135 operations."
The biggest change for Part 91 sightseeing operators will be that they now have to get a letter of authorization from the FAA.
But pilots and associated organizations giving charity sightseeing flights won't be pleased. That's because the FAA increased the minimum flight time for private pilots to conduct these flights.
"Despite AOPA's contention, the FAA raised the minimum from 200 to 500 hours," Gutierrez said. "The FAA based their action on the fact that more accidents occur with pilots between 200 and 500 hours. But that's not an accurate justification because the majority of pilots fall into that range. This move unnecessarily reduces the number of pilots available to give charity sightseeing flights by 22 percent."
Part 91 Commercial Sightseeing Operators
Charity Sightseeing Operators
Helicopter Sightseeing Operators (both charity and for-profit)
AOPA's analysis of the FAA's commercial air tour, charity, and sightseeing rule finds that the impact on Part 91 air tour operators is as minimal as could be hoped for, but the impact on pilots who fly to help with charity fundraisers is very detrimental.
The FAA agreed with AOPA's contention that small air tour operators who stay within 25 statute miles of their departure point should be able to continue to fly under Part 91 instead of being forced to operate under much more expensive Part 135 regulations. That decision is likely to be the difference between literally hundreds of small sightseeing operations across the country staying in business or going under.
AOPA spent more than three years working to mitigate what was originally a tremendously onerous proposed rule, and despite AOPA's arguments, the FAA raised the minimum experience level for private pilots from 200 to 500 hours. This move unnecessarily reduces the number of pilots available to give charity sightseeing flights by 22 percent. The FAA based its action on the fact that more accidents occur with pilots between 200 and 500 hours. But that's not an accurate justification because the majority of pilots fall into that range. As such, these statistics may not reflect the true safety record of pilots in this experience level, but rather their increased exposure.
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