Air Tour Rule Gets Mixed Reaction

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New rules governing what is broadly known as air tours are easier than expected on commercial operators and tougher than anticipated on so-called charity flights. The final form of the air tour rule released Friday is quite a bit different from the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that was released almost three years ago. Among the biggest changes for commercial operators was the continuation of the so-called 25-mile rule, which allows Part 91 operators to offer sightseeing trips as long as they begin and end at the same airport and don't extend farther than 25 miles from that airport. "Elimination of this provision would have devastated many small businesses and deprived the public of the all-too-rare opportunity to experience flight in a small general aviation aircraft," said National Air Transportation Association President Jim Coyne. There's more paperwork ahead for all commercial operators, tougher rules on life preservers and helicopter floats but it all seems like stuff the existing operators can live with. The biggest changes appear to be in rules governing fund-raising and other not-for-profit flights. Under the final rule, private pilots can continue to fly a limited number of charity flights each year but they must have at least 500 hours instead of the current 200. According to AOPA's math, that cuts the pool of potential pilots for such events by 22 percent. The FAA's rationale for raising the experience level is that pilots with less than 500 hours have more accidents than those with more experience. But AOPA says that might be because there are simply more pilots in the 200 to 500-hour category than in others and they have more exposure. The Air Care Alliance, which represents organizations that use volunteer pilots to get people to medical appointments or other special circumstances, was pleased with the rule on its initial reading. "We are pleased that the FAA, recognizing the noncommercial nature of volunteer pilot operations and the value of donated flights to help our communities and those in need, saw fit to continue the policies which have governed this activity for so long, and which have worked well," Rol Murrow, president of the Alliance told AVweb. EAA is also digesting the 107-page document but it likely has some concerns, especially the section that outlaws experimental aircraft from taking part in charity flights."The regulations spelled out in the 107-page document will affect a significant part of certain flying by EAA and many of its members, including the B-17 tour, Pioneer Airport operations, and Young Eagles flights," said a posting on EAA's Web site. " Many EAAers also provide "barnstorming" flights that will be affected by the new regulations." Expect more reaction in the coming week.