...But FAA Seems Determined
During an "online public meeting" conducted on the topic earlier this month, hundreds of e-mails were exchanged between concerned pilots and FAA staff. In the meeting, FAA spokeswoman Alberta Brown said the FAA is likely to be flexible on some parts of its NPRM, but not on others. "We may consider not regulating you under Part 135," she said. "We will likely not be willing to let you continue to conduct unlimited air tours with 200-hour private pilots. Additionally, consistent with the NTSB recommendations, the FAA is not inclined to maintain the current 25-mile exception." Brown said the FAA is concerned not only with accidents that have already occurred, but with trying to prevent future accidents. She also conceded that the accident statistics are problematic. "There is no accident category for [the] Part 91 25-mile exception," she said. "There is no accident category for charity/community events. All of these accidents are lumped into general aviation, which is a very broad term." Nevertheless, she said, "There have been plenty of accidents by Part 91operators conducting sightseeing."
Brown (in an e-mail labeled "3rd FAA response") asked for input on a suggestion to exempt operators who have only one or two vintage airplanes, fly fewer than 100 hours of sightseeing flights per year, and meet other criteria such as completing an annual flight check with the FAA and showing proof of insurance. She also said (in "2nd FAA response") that the NPRM's statement that hot-air balloons and gliders would be exempt was in error. NATA was critical of the FAA's conduct in the meeting, saying it was slow to respond and in some cases didn't respond at all. More than one-half of the FAA responses were posted over the last two days of the public meeting, and about 10 were posted after the meeting had officially closed, NATA said, leaving little time for dialogue. "We believe that this less-than-optimal response time is indicative of the overwhelming and unanticipated interest this rulemaking has generated," said NATA's Eric Byer. The online meeting closed on March 5, but the comments are still available online for viewing (users must fill out a brief registration form to access the threads).