Good Intentions, Bad Results

A Glasair experimental

The FAA’s overall rule making objectives are to first and foremost protect the public from aviation accidents to the greatest extent possible while still keeping aviation practical and efficient. The second goal of the rules is to help protect the safety to individuals flying their own airplanes.

It is with these objectives in mind that the FAA created the rules that govern flying in experimental aircraft.

The rules help protect the public by restricting the flight areas of experimental airplanes in early testing. Pilots must get approval of a test area that avoids congested areas as much as possible so risk to people and property on the ground is minimized.

A second aspect of the experimental aircraft rules intended to protect the public is prohibition of using an experimental aircraft for hire. The thinking is that if you can’t carry people for compensation or hire in your experimental aircraft the public will have no means or reason to be in an experimental airplane.

To help protect individuals in experimental airplanes the FAA prohibits carrying any unnecessary people during the flight test program. Only the minimum required crew can be onboard, and for amateur-built light airplanes that means only the pilot can make flights until a test program is complete and approved by the FAA. If something goes wrong this rule confines the risk to just a single individual.

So I can see the FAA’s intentions in the rules governing experimental aircraft, and I agree with the objective, but the rules haven’t necessarily worked as planned.

Preventing a second pilot–particularly a pilot with test flying experience in similar aircraft—from being onboard during first and other early test flights means a builder/pilot is deprived of expert help when he needs it most. Yes, only one person is at risk on those early flights, but without an experienced test pilot also in the cockpit that person’s risk is actually increased.

Of course, an airplane builder can find an experienced pilot to make the first few test flights, but at some point the builder/pilot needs training to transition into his airplane. The rules allowing only “necessary” crew make it almost impossible for a pilot/builder to get real in-flight training when he may need it most.

The other aspect of the rules, the one that prevents carrying people for hire in experimentals, greatly complicates pilot training even after an experimental aircraft has completed its flight test program and has received its special certificate. If an instructor cannot be paid for airplane expenses to teach in an experimental, as the rules require, it’s tough to find qualified and experienced instructors to teach pilots how to transition into an experimental airplane because an instructor can charge for instruction only. You can’t rent an experimental for flight training, in other words, like you would a certified airplane.

In its study of amateur-built experimental (E-AB) accidents the NTSB found, to nobody’s surprise, that the first few flights of a newly built aircraft, and the first few flights of a pilot who purchases an existing E-AB aircraft, are particularly dangerous. Duh? When do pilots need training most? When they are new to an aircraft, any kind of aircraft. When do the rules make it most difficult to obtain training in an E-AB? When the aircraft is brand new and when a pilot buys an E-AB new to him.

EAA, NTSB and FAA are beginning to find solutions to this dilemma. A first step is to make pilots and builders aware of instructors who have received a Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA) to teach for hire in E-AB, including charging for airplane operating expenses. The LODA is granted by FAA offices individually to pilots and is not a blanket type of approval. But the list of pilots with the LODA is growing, and we hope will grow much more quickly now that it is crystal clear that instruction in E-AB is essential for safety.

You can look at our main site to see a list of instructors with the LODA allowing them to charge for airplane operating expeneses during training. And we are encouraging any pilot who has a LODA for E-AB instruction and is not on the list to contact EAA so your name can be added.

The FAA rules to protect the public and pilots while flying E-AB have good intention, but the results have been unintended. I’m happy to see we are making at least some progress in correcting that.

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9 Responses to Good Intentions, Bad Results

  1. Kayak Jack says:

    Every decision has consequences; some were expected, while others were not. Some consequences are beneficial (determination of this depends on perspective of the evaluator) and some not so beneficial. Also, some consequences are intended, and others are unintended. The dent in safety, in this case, seems to be a consequence that is unexpected, not beneficial, and unintended.

    Responsible decision makers go back to evaluate results of their decisions. “Did this do want I wanted/needed it to?” Decisions hardly ever work out exactly as we really wanted them to, so post decision adjustments are almost always required (mid-course corrections). To not do this step to evaluate and correct, is irresponsible.

  2. -JS says:

    Prior to the DAR or FAA airworthiness inspection, you can request in your program letter a second pilot or crew member for certain portions of your flight test program. If there is a reasonable justification, it is likely to be granted. However, that crew member is not likely to be approved if the flight testing mission for which you have requested is “builder/pilot training”. However, it may be approved for instance if you have a tandem seat plane and requested an experienced pilot in type as your safety pilot while exploring the controlability of the aircraft from the second set of controls in the back seat.

    The FAA says they never get a request for a second crew member, but that is because they have done a poor job of defining the tasks a second crew member might be assigned. Many amateur builders incorrectly assume that if they request a required second crew member for a certain phase of their test flying, that their plane will have a two person crew requirement. That is not the case. If the second crew member is there to make that phase of flight testing safer, the request is likely to be granted for that portion of your flight testing plan.

  3. Brent says:

    I have a friend that’s a LODA and he had major insurance headaches as a result. The insurance companies need to get onboard as part of the solution.

  4. Victor Roberts says:

    There is no prohibition to paying an instructor to instruct in an experimental airplane, nor to paying a pilot to do the initial testing. The prohibition against commercial use applies to the commercial use of the aircraft, not to whether or not the crew is being paid to perform permitted activities. You can certainly pay an instructor to train you in your own airplane or hire a commercial pilot to fly it.
    The LODA permits the holder who is the owner of an Experimental (E-AB) airplane to use that aircraft to give transition training to holders of at least a private pilot’s license, and to receive payment for doing so.

    • DEL says:

      Please tell us, Victor, on what do you base your dissent.

    • Mac says:

      Hi Victor,
      You are correct. I was not clear in the original posting that the FAA prohibits charging for airplane expenses, not an instructor fee. So you can hire an instructor and pay him to teach you, but you can’t hire an instructor and an experimental airplane. The LODA authorizes instructors to be paid for both teaching and airplane expenses.
      Mac Mc

      • Mark DuPont says:

        You can pay an instructor to fly with you in your airplane, but I didn’t think he could be present during the first 25/40 hours. Am I wrong?

  5. Kris Kortokrax says:

    Although Victor did not give the specific reference, it resides in Order 8900.1, Volume 3, Chapter 11, Section 1, Paragraphs 3-292 A and B.

    There is no proscription regarding an instructor being paid to provide instruction in an experimental aircraft that he does not own. The LODA is required when an individual wants to start a business in which he provides both the aircraft and instructor.

    I have in the past provided Flight Reviews (which include 1 hour of flight instruction) in experimental aircraft and been paid for it. Nothing illegal about it.

  6. Bob Severns says:

    I think much of the problem lays with the airplanes today’s pilots are trained in. Many of them are too docile. There are no graphic consequences for not flying them correctly. Many have barely enough elevator authority to take the wing into a stall with the trottle closed, which is not the case with most amature built designs. You can make nice smooth landings in today’s trainers when everything you’ve done leading up to the landing is wrong, and the poor dumb student asks, “What was wrong with that?” A student being taught in a Cessna 140 or a Luscombe knows right off the bat when he doesn’t do it right. Many amature built designs fly more like military airplanes than most modern airplanes used for training today. There are real consequences for poor stick and rudder skills.

    I bought a RV-6 several years ago. I’d taken a demo ride in the right seat, and learned a little about the airplane. When I came to pick it up and take it home, nobody was around, so I strapped it on and flew it home. It took me about five hours to make friends with it. It did give me a few lessons, but it’s an honest airplane. If you don’t screw up, it won’t bite. I have about 500 hours in it now. I had about 4000 hours in mostly tailwheel airplanes prior to the RV-6.

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