Regulatory Brief: Commercial Air Tour, Charity, and Sightseeing Rule

Regulatory Brief

Commercial Air Tour, Charity, and Sightseeing Rule

The issue

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 importance to our members

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.

Most recent Web posting

FAA keeps GA sightseeing under Part 91, raises pilot hour requirement for charity flights

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."

Significant provisions

Part 91 Commercial Sightseeing Operators

  • Allowed to continue conducting flights under the operating rules of part 91 within the 25-statute-mile exception, except for flights over national parks, which are generally limited to a total of five per month.
    • Impact: No change from previous regulations
  • Must conduct passenger safety briefings on every flight and provide passengers with life preservers for over-water flights. Required briefings include the use of seatbelts, prohibition on smoking, exiting the aircraft, and use of life preservers for over-water flights. Passengers are required to wear the life preservers while in flight if the sightseeing tour is to be conducted beyond the airplane's power-off gliding distance to the shoreline.
    • Impact: Sightseeing operators who conduct over-water flights beyond the shoreline of an ocean, sea, lake, pond, river, or tidal basin will now have to purchase life preservers at a cost of about $200 per unit and an additional $200 annual maintenance and inspection costs.
  • Each operator must apply for, and operate in accordance with, a letter of authorization (LOA) issued by the FAA. The LOA application must include the following information:
    1. Name of operator, agent, and any d/b/a under which that operator does business;
    2. Principal business address and mailing address;
    3. Principal place of business (if different from business address);
    4. Name of person responsible for management of the business;
    5. Name of person responsible for aircraft maintenance;
    6. Type of aircraft, registration number(s), and make/model/series; and
    7. An Antidrug and Alcohol Misuse Prevention Program registration.
    8. The operator must comply with the provisions of the letter of authorization received.
      • Impact: Sightseeing operators could encounter lengthy delays in obtaining LOAs if they wait until close to the September 11, 2007, deadline before sending in their LOA application.
      • The FAA failed to specify in the final rule what the provisions of the LOA will consist of, which could lead to confusion and problems with some FSDOs.
      • Any sightseeing operator who has not been complying with the existing drug and alcohol testing requirements will not be able to get an LOA until after they register their drug and alcohol program with the FAA.

Charity Sightseeing Operators

  • Allowed to continue conducting sightseeing flights under the operating rules of part 91 within 25-statute-mile exception.
    • Impact: No change from previous regulations.
  • Sponsors and their pilots for charitable and nonprofit events are limited to four events each calendar year.
    • Impact: No change from AOPA's current exemption.
  • Sponsors and their pilots for a community event are limited to one event per calendar year.
    • Impact: Some community event sponsors, while technically not "charitable organizations," have used AOPA's drug and alcohol testing exemption in the past to conduct charity sightseeing flights, which allows for up to four events per year. With this new rule, community event sponsors are now limited to one event per year.
  • Private pilots must have at least 500 hours total flight time.
    • Impact: Reduces available pool of pilots by 22 percent.
  • Charity sponsors must notify and provide to their local FSDO the details of the event, including a photocopy of each pilot in command's pilot certificate, medical certificate, logbook entries that show the pilot is current, and a signed statement from each pilot that lists all prior events in which the pilot has participated.
    • Impact: Previously the only document submissions required were for private pilots; now it's for every pilot. Also, the signed statements from each pilot are a new requirement.
  • Pilots must comply with the safety requirements of part 136 subpart A (passenger briefing and life preservers over water).
    • Impact: Over-water charity sightseeing flights will more than likely come to an end because most charities (and their volunteer pilots) will not be able to justify buying life preservers for such a limited number of events.
  • Drug and alcohol testing not required.
    • Impact: No change from AOPA's current exemption.
  • Drug and alcohol testing requirements through individual exemptions is incorporated into §91.146.
    • Impact: Beginning March 15, 2007, AOPA members will no longer have to request and receive permission from AOPA to use the association's exemption from FAA drug and alcohol testing requirements.
  • Proposal to create a new section referencing emergency or medical service flights has been deleted.
    • Impact: Positive - Mixing emergency or medical service flights with charity sightseeing flights would have served no other purpose than create confusion.

Helicopter Sightseeing Operators (both charity and for-profit)

  • Helicopter operators must be equipped with fixed floats or an inflatable flotation system if the over-water flight is conducted beyond power-off gliding distance to the shoreline.
    • Impact: While this requirement is costly for helicopter operators, the FAA has given them over a year and a half to comply.
  • Helicopter operators must complete a performance plan before each flight that considers the effects of density altitude, weight, and CG limits on takeoff, landing, and hovering in ground effect.

AOPA position

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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Updated Thursday, March 15, 2007 2:33:23 PM