Additional Pilot Program proposed for Phase I testing

Comments due by July 29

July 8, 2014

The FAA has published a new draft advisory circular (AC) covering an Additional Pilot Program for Phase I flight testing of experimental amateur-built aircraft. The proposed program has the potential to significantly increase the safety of flight testing in experimental amateur-built aircraft.

The program provides an avenue for builder/owners of aircraft built from commercially produced kits to use a qualified additional pilot during early testing. It was developed to improve safety by enhancing builder/owner pilot skills and to mitigate risks associated with Phase I flight testing. The optional program provides another pathway to conducting Phase I flight testing, and the advisory circular is open for public comment through July 29.

During Phase I testing, the minimum crew for typical experimental amateur-built aircraft and all experimental light sport aircraft is one. Operating limitations issued for Phase I operations currently restrict the number on board an aircraft to minimum flight crew.

In 2012, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued Safety Recommendation A-12-31, recommending the FAA “revise FAA Order 8130.2, and related guidance or regulations, as necessary, to clarify those circumstances in which a second qualified pilot could be authorized to assist in the performance of flight tests when specified in the flight test plan and Phase I operating limitations.”

"Today’s reality of the ever-increasing complexity and capability of the modern kit aircraft is that Phase I flight testing tests not only the capability of the aircraft, but also the pilot," the advisory circular states.

Highlights of the advisory include that for the first eight hours of Phase I testing, an additional pilot must meet certain qualifications for flight experience—recent, total, and make/model. After a specific Initial Test Package, including aircraft tests and maneuvers, additional pilot criteria are relaxed. The aircraft must be listed on an FAA list of amateur-built aircraft kits; have full-functioning dual controls; have an engine recommended, supported, or provided by the kit manufacturer; and have preflight testing of systems complete.

If a builder/owner elects not to use an additional pilot during Phase I flight testing, he or she should actively seek out and take structured transition training in the same make/model prior to test flying the aircraft they built or bought. Regardless of aircraft certification, power, or complexity, proper transition training should be sought prior to flying any unfamiliar aircraft. 

AOPA and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) worked closely with the FAA and its members on developing the advisory circular. AOPA is reviewing the draft AC and will provide the FAA with comments to ensure the new policy will be practical enough to increase safety while not being overly burdensome to take advantage of it. Members currently building experimental aircraft should be aware of the new AC and its provisions, and are asked to comment by the July 29 deadline. 

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.