By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
The Aircraft Kit Industry Association, AKIA, has formed around a primary objective of preserving the FAA's 51-percent rule, improving experimental-amateur built aircraft safety, and promoting the kit aircraft industry. The group is led by President Dick VanGrunsven, the designer of the world's most popular kit aircraft -- the RV series -- and Vice President John Monnett, a kit aircraft pioneer. AKIA so far includes Vans, Sonex, Lancair, Kitfox and Zenith among its members, and includes kit aircraft suppliers Wicks and Aircraft Spruce. Statistics show the experimental aircraft industry is growing and recent actions by federal agencies show that scrutiny of the segment may be growing, too.
Roughly one in ten general aviation aircraft in the U.S. is experimental, and about 1,000 more are added to the FAA registry each year, according to AOPA. In May, the NTSB released a study regarding the safety of experimental amateur-built aircraft. It found that more than 10 percent of accidents suffered by the segment occurred on the first flight of an aircraft. According to the NTSB, one of the most important findings of the study "is the number of seasoned and experienced pilots getting into accidents so early in the life of structurally sound airplanes." The NTSB made 16 safety recommendations based on its study, including that pilots submit a detailed flight test plan to the FAA and develop a flight manual with emergency procedures. Homebuilders are generally a group of self-confident, driven individuals -- traits that are generally required for completion of the task. AKIA is similarly "composed of some very independent and strong-willed people," according to its secretary, Dave Gustafson, "who are united behind the same set of values."