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 eaa.org 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.