News: On Changes to 51% Rule Guidance, VanGrunsven “Cautiously optimistic.”

Among the current kit manufacturers, Van’s Aircraft is indisputably the volume leader. Nearly 5600 RVs are flying, and like all other kit manufacturers, the company has a lot to lose if the guidance behind approval of kitbuilt airplanes becomes significantly stricter. But founder Dick VanGrunsven was, in an interview Friday, concerned but far from panicky. In fact, he is “cautiously optimistic” about the overall picture for homebuilts, which includes the potential for certification under the Primary category.

But for now, VanGrunsven is focusing on the short term, rallying builders and pilots of all Experimental/Amateur-Built aircraft to contact the FAA in support of the existing rule structure. “We need to get the word out,” he said, “so builders can write the FAA. We need to prove that what we have now [in quickbuild kits] is good and that builders benefit. Pilots and builders have a big part to play. Potentially, it’s the best thing we can do right now.”

He is concerned that changes to the rules “could be disastrous” if taken to the extreme. “We have had similar FAA meetings before, where little change resulted. And we thought this round was more about fine-tuning the certain regulations and directives. We spent a lot of time debating ‘shall’ or ‘must,’ but we were surprised where it went, regarding the compliance checklist.”

In the final report released on Feb 15, the FAA said that it was in agreement with several proposals offered by the Amateur-Built Aircraft Aviation Rulemaking Committee to reduce "excessive" commercial builder assistance, but could not reach consensus on ways to determine who gets credit for fabrication and assembly among the kit manufacturer, commercial assistance and the builder of record. In the report, the FAA gave little to no hint on how the new guidance would be written. “But indications are that the checklist [the 8000-38 form] will get tighter,” VanGrunsven said.

Considering the ways new rules might alter the makeup of quickbuild kits as we know them, VanGrunsven said, “The best case is that the quickbuild kits will become a bit more basic, maybe putting 10-20% back onto the builder. We could do that and still have a reasonably attractive product. Over the years, FAA-accepted rules interpretations have permitted quckbuild kits to evolve as they have, benefiting both builders and kit companies. Our job will be to convince the FAA that the way the industry has evolved [in terms of the quickbuild kits themselves] is generally favorable."

According to VanGrunsven, "Our objective was to stay as close as possible to the current rules. In our initial proposal, we wanted to look at a couple of current quickbuild kits and create a new checklist from that. Now it looks like the FAA is going to create the new checklist first and then see how it fits the actual kits."

In the meantime, as the industry waits for the FAA to publish a draft of the revised Advisory Circulars, builders can continue their work with a clear conscience. "If you're now building a 51% rule compliant kit, there's no problem. The old rules still apply," VanGrunsven confirmed.

One reason for VanGrunsven's moderated optimism is the hope that the Primary category could be used to alleviate the stress. "With Primary, all the rules change. The 'major portion' rule goes out the window. Getting the FAA to look at this as an alternative is a legitimate possibility," he said.

Check back this week for more analysis on the Primary category.

Update: Dan Parker's Altitude Attempt

KITPLANES readers will recall a recent article about Dan Parker and his High Flyer (January 2008 issue). He is in the process of designing and building an aircraft that he hopes will set a new world record of 31,051 feet for aircraft with a takeoff weight of less than 300kg.

Dan has informed us that he's made that milestone of attaching the wings and is hoping to fly it this Spring from an airport in Northern California. The requirement is that he has to take off with no external assistance such as a tow, and land with all the parts he had on take off, meaning he can’t drop the wheels or throw out oxygen bottles.

We’ll be watching this closely and reporting the flight. To see details of the aircraft go to Dan's website.

News: Reworked Guidance for Kitbuilt Aircraft on the Way

Will revised Advisory Circulars kill builder assistance?

Last Friday, the FAA published the final report from the Amateur-Built Aircraft Aviation Rulemaking Committee that outlines plans to keep the “home” in homebuilt. There will be a public comment period, which EAA predicts will be announced in April or May, and the FAA intends to have a final rule by October, though industry sources say it could come sooner. Read the Federal Register. Read the Final Report.

The report follows months of work by the FAA and industry representatives in an attempt to curb flagrant violations of the Experimental/Amateur-Built rules, which state that individuals must complete a “major portion” of the aircraft to be eligible for registration in that category. The report acknowledges that some companies provide de facto manufacturing facilities for kitbuilt aircraft in which the builder does little actual work. “In the most extreme cases, other persons fabricate and assemble the major portion of an amateur-built aircraft for the applicant,” according to the report.

To curb these abuses, the FAA has proposed changes to the guiding documents rather than a rewrite of the FARs that govern the category. Specifically, changes are expected to Advisory Circulars 20-27 and 20-139 that more accurately tally and identify outside commercial assistance on the forms used by the builder and the final inspector of the aircraft. The intention is, according to Earl Lawrence, vice president of industry and government affairs at the EAA, to clarify which parts of the airplane are completed by the builder, what is done by the factory as part of the original kit, and what has been done by commercial assistance. Now, for example, a kit manufacturer can construct all but one wingrib while the builder “fabricates” the remaining rib, and both entities get credit for all the work. There is also no requirement to state which parts of the aircraft have been fabricated or assembled by third-party commercial assistance. The revised ACs are expected to address these issues with specific guidance.

“The vast majority [of the report] is what we expected. We still don’t 
know what the FAA intends,” said Mikael Via, of Glasair Aircraft. “We’re waiting to see what the policies and orders state. Nothing here affects our existing customers.”

Jeremy Monnett, of Sonex Aircraft, said his company has always taken the 51% rule to heart and enforcement is the key to ensuring all kit manufacturers and builders adhere to the rules. “The resources required to carry out this enforcement have not been made available by the FAA over the last few years,” Monnett said in a news release. “Without these resources, enforcement loosens and the rules are pushed beyond their spirit and intent, compromising the rules' continued existence.”

The FAA has proposed forming a group of Aviation Safety Inspectors to validate a manufacturer’s claims that its kits allow the builder to complete the “major portion” of the aircraft. Currently, the inspections involve considerable discretion among inspectors, which has resulted in inconsistencies in approval.

In addition to publishing the report, the FAA announced Friday that it was temporarily suspending inspection of aircraft kits for inclusion on the “51% list.” This does not impact local inspections of completed airplanes. The move halts inspection of designs at the manufacturer level until the final rulemaking is published.

In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, many industry leaders were difficult to reach. We'll keep after them and offer their insights on the upcoming rule changes soon.

KITPLANES Magazine Newsblog Goes Live!

Welcome to the KITPLANES newsblog, where you will find the latest news and views on the world of homebuilt aviation. This is not intended to be a substitute for the great content you’ll find in each issue of the magazine, but rather it will serve as a venue for late-breaking news, opinion, show coverage and stories in brief. We hope you’ll take the time to share your insights with us as we embark on this effort, as you’re an integral part of the picture. We appreciate your participation, and we look forward to making this a valuable addition to the KITPLANES franchise.