The FAA has granted an amended blanket exemption to AOPA members allowing them to conduct charity sightseeing flights without implementing an expensive drug-testing program.
"Now we have a program that pilots can really use," said Phil Boyer, AOPA president.
"The FAA responded to our requests and modified the exemption to make it less bureaucratic."
The amended exemption will allow AOPA members to continue the longstanding tradition of helping the local community and promoting general aviation by conducting "penny-a-pound" airplane rides and sightseeing flights to raise money for charity.
The issue erupted last year after the FAA decided pilots who collect donations for such flights "must assure that all safety-sensitive persons be on an FAA-approved anti-drug and alcohol misuse program." To meet that requirement, a pilot who wanted to volunteer his time and aircraft for charity fund-raising would have to spend more than $200 to establish an "approved" drug testing program.
However, AOPA noted that drugs and alcohol are a factor in less than one percent of all general aviation accidents. And AOPA couldn't find a record of any charity flight accident attributable to drugs or alcohol.
In April 1999, AOPA petitioned the FAA for a blanket exemption allowing AOPA members to conduct a limited number of such flights a year without establishing an anti-drug program and conducting random drug testing.
The FAA granted an exemption in February of this year, but AOPA found the procedures so onerous that it declined to implement it. The association told the FAA, "Thanks, but no thanks." AOPA objected to complicated reporting procedures and requirements that non-aviators (local charity groups) brief pilots on drug-free operations and review pilot logbooks.
AOPA went back to the FAA and requested a more workable program.
The agency responded with an amended version that grants the "Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, on behalf of its members," an exemption from specific federal aviation regulations "to the extent necessary to allow the AOPA member-pilots to conduct local sightseeing flights at charity or community events, for compensation or hire, without complying with certain anti-drug and alcohol misuse prevention requirements of Part 135," subject to certain limitations.
The FAA spelled out 10 limitations to the exemption, including a requirement that charity flights be conducted in day VFR conditions within 25 miles of the airport. AOPA-member pilots participating in the charity flights must have at least a private pilot certificate, be familiar with regulations concerning drug-free operations, and make a logbook entry for each event in which the pilot participates.
AOPA member-pilots may participate in no more than four such events in a calendar year, and event sponsors may conduct no more than four charity flight events per year.
As soon as practical after the event, the AOPA member-pilot must submit a brief report to AOPA, and AOPA will provide an annual report to the FAA of all members who have conducted charity flights under this exemption.
AOPA members can obtain complete details on the charity flight drug-testing exemption through AOPA's toll-free Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672), or online.
"Charity flights produce much-needed income for airport groups, medical patients, and other charitable causes, and they are also invaluable in promoting the utility, value, and image of aviation to the non-flying public," said Boyer. "We're pleased that our members can now continue this valuable service to their communities without expensive drug-testing programs or complicated bureaucratic procedures.
"The FAA did the right thing for the right reasons."
The 365,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents the interests of general aviation. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.
November 22, 2000