An FAA notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published this week 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 pilots conducting charity fundraising flights from 200 to 500 and remove an exemption that allows Part 91 sightseeing flights within 25 nm of an airport. Operators conducting flights under this exception will now be subject to the operational requirements of Part 135.
"This proposed rule is a real slap in the face to Part 91 pilots who contribute their time and services to worthy causes, and to small businesspeople just trying to earn an income," said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula. "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."
The proposed rule does retain exemptions for flight training, including introductory flights.
AOPA will file its objections to the changes in formal comments to the FAA. The NPRM is available on the Federal Docket Management System, docket number 4521. Comments may be submitted at the same Web site.
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 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," said Cebula. In the NPRM itself, the FAA says "about 700" sightseeing businesses would be forced to get out of that business.