Jan. 14, 2004 - AOPA on Tuesday told the FAA pilots need more time to comment on proposed changes to the charity/sightseeing rule. If the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is finalized, hundreds of pilots would be driven out of the sightseeing business, and as many as 25% of the pilots who fly for charity fundraisers will no longer be allowed to.
In a letter to the FAA, AOPA asked the FAA to extend the comment period for an additional 90 days and schedule public meetings, stating, "The FAA has the obligation to hear in person from representatives from the general aviation community how the proposal affects their operations."
"For years, hundreds of a small sightseeing operations have introduced the public to the joy of flight under FAA's current regulations without compromising safety," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The viability of these businesses is in jeopardy because the FAA wants to change the rules based on accident data that has almost nothing to do with the way these businesses operate.
"This proposed change strikes at the very heart of general aviation. Pilots who want to use their flying skills to make a living or to help charities raise money may find it nearly impossible to do so."
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. 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 first told the FAA to "talk to pilots" about the NPRM in mid-November. Last week, the FAA indicated to AOPA that the agency was about to extend the comment period, which would seem to be a necessary step to allow time for public meetings. However, the FAA is still balking at conducting public meetings and instead wants to only offer an online "virtual" meeting.
In the letter to the FAA, AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula wrote, "The FAA should provide these entities with the opportunity to explain first-hand how the proposal affects their operations and determine the accuracy of the FAA's analysis of the proposal.
Of the FAA's suggestion that it hold online "virtual" meetings, Cebula wrote, "While AOPA does not discourage the use "virtual" public meetings as a means of gathering data to assist the Agency in its analysis of the affected user community, we contend that they are no substitute for face-to-face meetings."
In the meantime, AOPA is asking for pilots' help in assembling the association's formal comments.
AOPA has developed questionnaires for Part 91 air tour operators, charities that make use of fundraising flights, and flight schools or FBOs. There is also an issue brief prepared by the AOPA Government and Technical Affairs staff to explain both the issue and AOPA's position.
AOPA rarely uses surveys of this nature but feels this issue has the potential to have such a negative impact that it's necessary to gather this information.