Embarrassed FAA Preparing To Overturn “Known Icing” Interpretation?


Sources this week tell AVweb the FAA is preparing to overturn a much-ridiculed June 6, 2006, letter from the agency’s eastern region that reinterpreted what constitutes “known icing conditions” by reverting back to guidance initially published in 2003. The letter, by FAA Eastern Region Counsel Loretta E. Alkalay, was written in response to an operator’s request for a definition of what constitutes “known icing conditions” and stated, “known icing conditions exist when visible moisture or high relative humidity combines with temperatures near or below freezing.” She added, “flying through clouds at an altitude that is near or below freezing would constitute flight into known icing conditions.” Since the letter was written last summer and became widely disseminated later in the year, numerous aviation organizations expressed opposition to its conclusion. For example, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), in a letter written by Luis Gutierrez, the association’s director of regulatory and certification policy, told the FAA its interpretation “would unnecessarily ground many safe general aviation flights and may negatively affect safety because many pilots would not be able to train nor maintain flying proficiency during the winter season.” Now, according to AOPA spokesperson Chris Dancy, the association “understands the FAA is preparing to overturn” the June letter in a fashion “consistent with current guidance,” although he could not highlight how the FAA’s policy reversal might be accomplished. Instead, AVweb has learned the FAA likely will revert to a 2003 definition of “known icing.”When the FAA may act to overturn the Alkalay letter is not known, but it appears the agency may accomplish this feat by publishing official guidance. The “hook” on which the FAA apparently may rely is a May 7, 2003, document that sought to clarify and redefine icing terminology [PDF]. That statement, itself a result of a December 22, 2000, proposal calling “for new and revised icing terms,” grew out of the 1996 FAA international conference on aircraft in-flight icing. In its 2003 statement, the FAA defined “known icing conditions” as “[a]tmospheric conditions in which the formation of ice is observed or detected in flight.” Which is a far cry from the “visible moisture or high relative humidity combines with temperatures near or below freezing” in the Alkalay letter. In fact, sources tell AVweb it’s clear the FAA is rather embarrassed by the regional counsel’s interpretation and the effort it will have to expend to overturn her letter and return the known icing definition to what it has been. And those sources reminded AVweb this is not the first time that office overturned well-establish FAA policy. All of which made one observer with whom we spoke wonder: What will it take for the FAA to suggest to Ms. Alkalay that she stop writing letters?