Organizations Ask FAA To Clarify Flight Training Rules


The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) have sent a joint letter to the FAA calling on the agency to clarify how a recent federal court ruling will affect compensated flight training. The ruling denied a petition to review an emergency cease-and-desist order issued by the FAA against Florida-based “vintage” flight school Warbird Adventures. The order stipulated that Warbird must stop providing paid flight instruction in its Curtiss P-40N because the aircraft “was not certified for that purpose.”

In denying the petition and upholding the cease-and-desist order, the court emphasized that 14 CFR §91.315 prohibits the use of limited category aircraft such as the P-40N for carrying people or property for compensation or hire. The judgment (PDF) further stated that using the aircraft for paid flight training qualified as flight for compensation since, in the court’s opinion, “When a student is learning to fly in an airplane, the student is “carr[ied] … And when the student is paying for the instruction, the student is being carried ‘for compensation.’”

“AOPA is disappointed by this decision and its finding that when a flight student is paying for instruction, the student is being carried for compensation,” AOPA’s general counsel Justine Harrison said following the ruling. “This departs from the long-standing premise that the compensation a flight instructor receives for instruction is not compensation for piloting the aircraft, but rather is compensation for the instruction.”

“The judgment issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on April 2, 2021 in Warbird Adventures, Inc. et al. v. Federal Aviation Administration has created significant confusion and concern in the aviation community regarding the impact of the decision on compensated flight training, in limited category aircraft and other categories of aircraft,” AOPA, EAA and GAMA wrote in the letter (PDF). “We therefore urge the FAA to expedite a direct and final statement of its position on the impact of the Court’s decision.”

As previously reported by AVweb, AOPA, EAA and GAMA, along with the National Association of Flight Instructors, the International Council of Air Shows and the North American Trainers Association, filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief on the case last November. At the time of that filing, the organizations expressed concerns that broad language in the ruling could result in increased training restrictions, especially for owners of limited and experimental category aircraft. The FAA has not yet published a response to the letter, which was sent on April 19.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. It’s hard enough for a pilot to figure out FAA legalese, but when a court of law is unable to, something is wrong!

  2. If this ruling as written stands, it will quite quickly become a disaster for GA, this much is clear. However, a tiny minority have been abusing the status quo for a good long time. That is, giving sightseeing, selfie-rides and/or “adventures” to people who have no intention to learn or continue training as pilots (cheap “pilot logbook”, included). As is often the case, actions of a 1% cause big problems for the rest of us.

    • I do not see much potential impact to GA here. To the ability to operate special category aircraft like the P-40N mentioned here, yes. For these aircraft, I believe the PIC needs a letter of authorization, though I am not sure about the P-40 specifically. For aircraft that do require that, who is going to provide the instruction if they cannot be paid for it? It sounds like this interpretation would extend to instructing a new owner of one of these aircraft too since the instructor would be PIC.

      Otherwise, I guess this might mean you cannot pay for training for a new type or category in the homebuilt you just bought, even if you have an examiner who is okay with it. This is not common anyway though.

      I agree though that this likely came up because of the abuse you mentioned.

      • If this ruling causes paid flight instruction to fall under “carriage of passengers or property for hire”, then it falls under the requirements of Part 135, on-demand air carrier. To pick just one example, very few 1962 C-172 owners and their aircraft will be able to meet Part 135 standards in order to get flight instruction for a BFR or their kid’s private ticket. For rental fleets of most FBO’s, the situation is no different.

        A giant can of worms has been opened, perhaps unintentionally, but opened nonetheless.

  3. Indeed, a can of worms:

    “When a student is learning to fly in an airplane, the student is “carr[ied] … And when the student is paying for the instruction, the student is being carried ‘for compensation.’”

    So then, if you’re flying your personal airplane for training/BFR, and an instructor is on board, it’s now a commercial enterprise.

    • Not so. It has been ruled that an instructor gets paid for instruction, not for flying and therefore does not fall under “commercial enterprise”.

      • That’s the whole point of the article. The court is applying the law in a manner inconsistent with past interpretations.