The FAA's recent attempt to make its rulemaking regulations (FAR Part 11) more understandable may actually limit the public's access to the process and degrade the quality of information available to the agency, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
"AOPA has long held that the federal aviation regulations are cumbersome and sometimes difficult to understand, so we strongly support 'plain language' rules," said Lance Nuckolls, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "But the FAA's proposed changes to Part 11 could actually result in a rule that is overly complex and difficult to understand."
AOPA's biggest concern is that the new Part 11 would prohibit the public from contacting the FAA concerning a proposed rulemaking action. Included is the Department of Transportation's so-called "ex-parte policy," which prohibits informal contacts between government officials and the public once a rulemaking action (such as a proposed airworthiness directive or an airspace change) has started.
"We believe that such informal contacts provide a vital link between the flying public and appropriate FAA authorities," said Nuckolls. "AOPA, aircraft owners, type clubs, and mechanics regularly talk to the FAA to get the facts they need to give objective, meaningful comments on rulemaking actions."
As a case in point, Nuckolls cited the recent twin Cessna exhaust AD. The FAA has praised AOPA and other organizations for the quality of comments submitted on that AD. But were it not for informal discussions with FAA regulators, the general aviation community would not have had the specific information necessary to provide the FAA with the necessary insight to issue a fair and reasonable rule.
AOPA recognized that the FAA makes an honest attempt to include all needed information in a proposed rule.
"However, with AOPA's 60 years of participation in the rulemaking process, and after the submission of countless petitions and comments, we're well aware that no agency can possibly know everything and include it in a technical rule," said Nuckolls. "And AOPA doubts that the FAA has the resources to hold a public meeting every time an individual or an organization needs more information on a rulemaking action.
"The elimination of the 'non-public' contact provisions can only diminish public input, and this is contrary to the FAA's stated goal of opening up the rulemaking process."
AOPA did note that many of the proposed changes to FAR Part 11 could lead to clearer and more concise rulemaking actions.
A copy of AOPA's formal comments to the NPRM (Docket No. FAA 1999-6622) proposing changes to FAR Part 11, General Rulemaking Procedures, is available on AOPA Online.
AOPA's review of FAA rulemaking actions is part of the association's mission to make general aviation flying safer, more affordable, and more fun.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents more than 355,000 pilots who own or fly three quarters of the nation's 192,000 general aviation aircraft.
February 15, 2000