Feb. 6, 2004 - The Small Business Administration is listening to serious concerns raised by the general aviation industry about the FAA's proposed charity/sightseeing rule change. The SBA's Office of Advocacy held a teleconference on Friday after contacting AOPA and numerous other industry groups for background information on the effects of the change. AOPA participated in the teleconference.
"Our numbers helped convince the Office of Advocacy that there's true cause for concern for small general aviation businesses," said AOPA Director of Regulatory and Certification Policy Luis Gutierrez. The notice of proposed rulemaking would, by the FAA's own estimate, drive hundreds of small sightseeing operators out of the business and would more than double the number of hours a pilot must have before being able to fly as part of charity fundraisers, from 200 to 500 - all this with no likely increase in safety.
In fact, the airplane accident rate per million flight hours for sightseeing flights made under FAR Part 91 is nearly one-third lower than commercial air tours provided under FAR Parts 121 and 135.
"This morning's teleconference brought together everyone from individual small sightseeing operators to representatives for major air tour operators," said AOPA's Gutierrez. "This is a battle for which the industry really needs to come together, because, in the words of one of the participants, this rule is an equal opportunity offender. And I think that this meeting shows the FAA a strongly united front."
The smaller operators made clear that the FAA's assumptions about the number of hours Part 91 sightseeing operations are flying and percent of revenue such flights generate is badly flawed. And the larger air tour operators stressed that the combined burden of the cost of compliance and resulting loss of revenue could be enough to drive some of them out of business as well.
AOPA is helping SBA determine the number of Part 91 operators affected by the NPRM and how the NPRM would affect their revenues; determine the cost of implementing the rule; look at how the rule will affect airfields, flight schools, and charity organizations; and examine alternatives that would allow the FAA to achieve its regulatory goals while reducing the burden on small businesses.
SBA also informed participants in Friday's teleconference that the FAA will hold its "virtual" public meeting Feb. 23-March 5, 2004. The "virtual" public meeting is essentially a chat room where interested parties may submit questions and comments 24 hours a day, and the FAA will respond during normal business hours. AOPA has been pressuring the FAA to hold face-to-face meetings with the owners of the small businesses they're proposing to put out of business and will continue to do so.
The SBA Office of Advocacy will use the information from Friday's teleconference to help shape any potential response to the FAA on the charity/sightseeing NPRM.