Apr. 19, 2004 - The FAA's proposal to force small sightseeing businesses to meet the requirements for large air tour operators and increase flight-time requirements for pilots who fly charity fund-raisers is neither justified nor supported by safety data and should be withdrawn, AOPA told the agency on Monday.
In AOPA's formal response, filed on what was to have been the last day of public comment, Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula said that by combining sightseeing, air tours, and charity flights, the FAA has made the proposal "impractical, if not impossible, to implement.
"This also reflects a failure by the FAA to understand the uses of general aviation aircraft."
AOPA says the FAA's claims that the proposed rule will improve safety are suspect.
"Nothing in the original Federal Register notice or the information that has been made available during the comment period indicates that there is a significant safety issue with sightseeing flights," Cebula wrote. The AOPA Air Safety Foundation reviewed the 73 accidents mentioned in supporting documents for the NPRM and found that in 92 percent of those cases, the proposed rule would not have prevented the accidents. The other eight percent only might have been prevented if operated as Part 135 flights.
The proposal to increase the minimum number of hours a private pilot must have in order to provide sightseeing flights to help charities raise money is arbitrary and would do little to improve safety, argued AOPA. Raising the minimum from 200 to 500 hours would mean 22% fewer pilots would be available to help charities raise money. Private pilots are limited to four such events per year. The flights must be conducted in day VFR conditions and are typically flown near the pilot's home in an area with which they're thoroughly familiar.
As Cebula noted in AOPA's comments, more than a dozen members of Congress expressed concerns about the proposed rule's adverse economic impact on the GA community in letters to the FAA. And the Office of Advocacy at the government's own Small Business Administration also found the FAA's economic data seriously flawed and recommended that the NPRM be withdrawn.
After the FAA initially published its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), AOPA conducted its own survey and analysis of the proposal's safety and economic impact and found the agency grossly underestimated the true effects. AOPA petitioned the FAA to hold public meetings and hear directly from the pilots who would be harmed. Late last week, five months after the initial petition, the FAA finally granted AOPA's petition and announced that it would hold two public meetings in May.
The NPRM not only harms Part 91 sightseeing businesses and charity fund-raiser flights, it also imposes significant hardships on existing Part 135 air tour operators. The proposal would require expensive new equipment and adopt standards that would result in far more frequent weather cancellations.
"One Alaska operator estimates the cost to their company at $15 million to $18 million over a 10-year period," wrote Cebula.
"AOPA strongly opposes the NPRM and requests that the FAA withdraw the NPRM immediately," he concluded.