On October 22, 2003, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that requires all air tour operators, with a limited exception for certain charitable and community events, to be certificated under part 119 and to bring their operations into compliance with Part 135 regulations.
The FAA's proposal will likely shrink the pool of pilots able to help local charities with fundraising flights and, by the FAA's own admission, will drive hundreds of small sightseeing operations out of the business. The proposal would raise the minimum number of hours required for private pilots conducting charity fundraising flights from 200 to 500 and remove an exemption that allows Part 91 sightseeing flights within 25 statute miles of the departure airport. Operators conducting flights under this exception will now be subject to the operational requirements of Part 135.
The data used to justify lifting the sightseeing exemption and require the operators to be certified as Part 135 are a jumble of Part 135 and Part 91 accident reports. But of the 11 accidents cited in the NPRM, eight occurred in Hawaii, and most were apparently already operating as Part 135 flights.
AOPA has presented even more evidence to show that the FAA's proposed charity/sightseeing rule - the National Air Tour Safety Standards - would harm charities and small businesses and is not justified by safety data. The association filed supplemental comments on the proposal Friday. "AOPA continues to oppose this rule," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "Nothing in FAA's original filing, nothing from the public comments, nothing from the public meetings shows that there is a significant safety issue on sightseeing and charity flights that must be addressed by this rulemaking initiative."
The rule would require that private pilots conducting charity sightseeing flights have at least 500 hours experience. It would also require that small sightseeing companies currently operating under Part 91 rules comply with the more restrictive Part 135 rules applying to charter operations. Even sightseeing companies currently flying under Part 135 would see greater restrictions. And that would significantly harm these small businesses.
AOPA conducted four surveys over three months to determine the actual impact.
"The surveys show that the FAA has underestimated sightseeing business closures by up to 100 percent and has failed to consider the substantial adverse economic impact on charities," Cebula said.
Of the Part 91 sightseeing operators surveyed, 82% said they would or could not comply with the proposed regulations. Some 94% said they would lose aircraft if the rule were imposed. (These businesses typically operate fewer than five aircraft and fly within 25 miles of the airport. They generally provide sightseeing rides in resort or scenic areas.)
The proposed rules covering charity flights would exclude some 21% of the current pilot population from participating in these flights. And 92% of AOPA members are opposed to rules, because of the impact on charity operations.
AOPA had argued in its previous comments that the FAA had presented flawed accident statistics to justify the rule. When the statistics were corrected, it was found that Part 91 sightseeing operations had a better accident rate than sightseeing conducted under Part 121/135 rules.
In the supplemental comments, AOPA said FAA had already addressed NTSB concerns about large, commercial sightseeing operations in current regulations. The association reminded the FAA that it had the authority to disagree with NTSB recommendations.
AOPA believes the proposed rule is a real slap in the face to private pilots who contribute their time and services to worthy causes, and to small business people just trying to earn an income. The FAA claims the change is for safety reasons, but they provide no safety data or statistics to justify the jump in flight hours required to conduct charitable fundraising flights. AOPA questions the need for this regulation and is concerned about the impact it will have, especially on the unique, open-air cockpit sightseeing flights in places like the Florida Keys and other tourist locales.
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