Is It A Ride Or An Air Tour?

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EAA Asks FAA To Forget The Air Tour NRPM...

The FAA should withdraw its proposal to impose new regulations on air-tour operators, EAA said last week, and start over. "The very foundation of this proposal is so flawed," EAA said in its 15-page comment, filed on Thursday, "... [the FAA should] re-evaluate the data and rewrite the proposed rule to more appropriately reflect any legitimate safety concerns." The FAA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, published last October (also available online here), would require sightseeing tours that now operate under Part 91 to be certificated and to comply with new rules regarding low-level flight, visibility and over-water ops. The NPRM also proposes new rules to cover flights during charitable events. The proposed rules would affect sightseeing flights including those conducted by flight schools, flights in unique aircraft such as EAA's B-17 bomber and Ford Tri-Motor, and vintage-aircraft flights around the country.

Faced with the costs of obtaining certification, most small businesses would just give up, says EAA. "Simply putting small commercial aviation enterprises out of business is not a rational or even ethically acceptable means of 'improving aviation safety,'" EAA said. The regulatory distinction between "air tour operators" and "sightseeing" flight operations should remain intact, EAA said. "We see air tour operators as being fairly substantial commercial ventures operating a fleet of aircraft ... we believe that operators conducting more casual 'sightseeing' flights using a single aircraft and more random general interest routing should not be held to the same standards as 'air tour operators.' In this regard, we believe that the existing exemption for 'sightseeing flights' from Part 119 and 135 is appropriate." Under current rules, sightseeing flights are allowed to operate under Part 91 as long as they fly nonstop within a 25-mile radius of the departure airport and land only at that airport. The proposed rule would require such operations to be certificated under Part 119. The FAA says that between 1993 and 2000, Part 91 air tours were involved in 75 accidents, with 38 fatalities. The FAA estimates its proposed changes would affect 1,670 operators and 3,100 aircraft that currently provide air tours under Part 91, and will cost $238 million over 10 years, but will save 130 lives over that period. The FAA estimated that about 700 operators would likely give up the business, but only if they fly 10 hours or less per year. EAA says the impact is likely to be much higher, and the FAA has not taken into account those losses, nor the losses to flight schools who use sightseeing flights not only as a source of incidental revenue but as a recruitment tool for attracting student starts.