My Oshkosh highlight? The Monday open seminar by the FAA on the proposed changes to the 51% rule. Certification director John Hickey and Frank Paskiewicz, of the FAAs AIR-200 (Production and Airworthiness Division) were on hand to receive the general ire of the homebuilding community.
They attempted to calm fears and explain the process by which the FAA has come to the recent set of proposals to overhaul the Advisory Circulars that provide guidance for homebuilt licensing. Perhaps the best news from that meeting was that the deadline for comments had been extended to September 30.
Just what this extension will do to the overall time frame remains unclear. The FAA was tardy in publishing this first draft set of ACs-intended to arrive in late spring, they were bomb-dropped just two weeks before AirVenture-and based on the feedback the agency surely is receiving, its difficult to imagine well have a final rule before the end of the year. Frankly, thats fine; Id rather see the FAA take the rulemaking back in house and really think it over, rather than rush something out the door.
But, back to Oshkosh. During that Monday seminar, builders and potential builders sparred with the FAA and, to some extent, EAAs own Earl Lawrence on the interpretation and effect of the proposed new rules. The central point of discussion was the new specific requirement for 20% fabrication by the builder. Although not stated explicitly in any recent documents from the FAA, Paskiewicz confirmed the FAAs belief that the intent of the original wording, that the builder is responsible for the majority of the fabrication and assembly, is that those tasks be apportioned equally. In theory, this means 25.5% assembly, 25.5% fabrication to get your 51%. By this math, the current 20% requirement for fabrication seems almost reasonable.
Except that it isnt. Of the kits sampled for the new 187-point checklist that will form the basis for future approvals, most of them came in at or under the 20% fabrication marker. The composite airplanes clocked numbers substantially under, meaning that in a strict interpretation, the kit manufacturer would have to backtrack-do less of the work-just to meet the standards going in. Thats not the direction builders, based on their buying habits, want it to go.
Based on discussions Ive had since the meeting, Im not the only one who thinks fabrication needs to be unhitched from a specific percentage and, at the very least, properly defined. The industry (EAA, kit manufacturers and builders all) has strongly opposed a specific fabrication percentage. This came through loud and clear to the FAA, I hope in ways that were sufficiently calm and reasoned that the FAA actually heard the idea instead of screeching. Moreover, the definition of fabrication in the current draft documents is confusing and inconsistent-it needs to be fixed before any percentage can be applied to it.
Oh, thats the reasonable me talking. The after-a-pint-of-Mirror-Pond me says: Take the notion of specific fabrication, wad it up and walk it over to the dumpsters in LEnfant Plaza. It will burden the honest builder and do nothing to stop people having airplanes constructed for them, which, as I read it, is the reason behind these rule changes. Enforcement of the existing rules, I think, is preferable.
As this is written, some 45 days before the comment period closes, it seems likely the fabrication percentage will be reduced-the number I heard was to 15%-but I also caught an undercurrent that the FAA was surprised by the public outcry. By the time you read this, a Version 2.0 of the new ACs might have been published. Whether the final ACs will reflect builder sentiment I cant say, but its clear that those who spoke up on that Monday-and those who have crafted strongly worded letters (not rants) to the FAA-have had an impact. Lets hope its a lasting one.
Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for 20 years and in magazine work for more than 25. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. Hes completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glastar Sportsman 2+2.