Mar. 11, 2004 - When the FAA refused to hold face-to-face public meetings with pilots and businesses that will be hurt by a proposed charity/sightseeing rule, AOPA vowed to make sure pilots would be heard - by Congress if not by the FAA. With the help of the chairman of a House Small Business subcommittee, AOPA is making good on that pledge. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), an AOPA member, wants to hear directly from pilots about what the proposed rule will do to their business.
"We're talking about a rule that would force hundreds of small businesses - the engine that drives the economy according to the White House - to close their doors forever," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "In its rush to force this ill-conceived proposal through, the FAA has tried to ignore the very people it's driving out of business. Now, thanks to Congressman Graves, Congress is listening, even if the FAA isn't."
The proposal would force small sightseeing operations to meet the more stringent requirements of large air tour operators. Graves was the first member of Congress to publicly add his voice to AOPA's call for the FAA to hold public meetings on the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM).
The FAA ignored AOPA, Graves, and other members of Congress, choosing to hold what it called a "virtual meeting" on the proposal. It was in fact nothing more than an online chat room that was open for two weeks, in which pilots whose businesses face extinction could submit their comments and the FAA could reply at its leisure - even after the time that the agency declared the "discussion" over. The FAA received hundreds of submitted comments. In addition, the agency has received more than 1,800 formal written comments through its online Docket Management System. Pilots who did not take part in the "virtual meeting" may still submit formal comments until April 19. The docket ID is FAA-1998-4521.
The proposed charity/sightseeing rule would, by the FAA's own estimate, drive hundreds of sightseeing operations that operate under FAR Part 91 rules out of business. It would require the businesses to operate as Part 135 air tour operators. It would also impose expensive regulatory changes for existing Part 135 operators with little or no increase in safety. And finally, it would more than double the hours a pilot would be required to have, from 200 to 500, in order to fly passengers as part of a charity fundraising effort.
The Small Business Administration has noted the concerns raised by AOPA and others in the aviation industry and is exploring a possible response to the FAA's proposal.