Aviation Groups Protest FAA Flight Training Stance

 - June 9, 2021, 12:39 PM

Ten aviation organizations are urging the FAA to revisit its perspective on a decision against Warbird Adventures, saying the agency’s standpoint has “serious and negative implications” on the broader flight-training community.

In a June 8 joint letter to FAA administrator Steve Dickson, the organizations objected to guidelines laid out in a June 4 agency letter that stated a flight instructor operating a limited category aircraft and carrying a paying student is acting contrary to federal regulation, even if that compensation is for the instruction and not carriage, the groups note. In addition, the June 4 FAA letter added that these prohibitions could extend to an instructor providing flight training in an experimental or primary category aircraft. The associations said they expect a more formal policy statement to follow this guidance.

In response, the organizations told the agency these views “reflect unnecessary and unwarranted guidelines based upon irrational legal positions” and cautioned that if the FAA were to implement the proposed policies “they will likely invite unnecessary legal battles while degrading safety. It is dismaying to see the FAA’s legal counsel allege that Order 8900.1 guidance is not consistent with the regulations.”

The FAA guidance came in response to an earlier request from the aviation organizations for an interpretation following a U.S. Appeals Court ruling that someone who receives compensation for flight instruction is carrying persons for compensation or hire, the organizations said. While that determination was unpublished—which the organizations said means the court did not see precedential value in the finding—the characterization still raises concerns of “significant domino effects across the aviation regulatory landscape” should the FAA adopt those positions, the organizations said as they sought a legal interpretation from the FAA.

In its ruling, the court declined to lift a cease-and-desist order issued by the FAA against Warbird Adventures of Kissimmee, Florida, concluding that the organization was operating a limited-category aircraft for compensated flight training without a necessary exemption.

Warbirds, or limited-category civil aircraft, are generally prohibited from being used for compensation or hire. But the FAA currently has two dozen exemptions to permit flight training in such an aircraft, the organizations said, adding that historically the agency has not prohibited the owners of the aircraft from paying for instruction in their own aircraft in the absence of an exemption.

The organizations worry that the guidance makes four key policy changes: prohibiting owners of experimental aircraft from receiving flight instruction in their own aircraft without specific FAA permission to do so in the form of a Letter of Deviation Authority; prohibiting owners of more than 300 limited-category aircraft from receiving flight instruction in their own aircraft without an exemption; prohibiting owners of primary category aircraft from receiving flight instruction in their own aircraft without an exemption; and, limiting access to flight training in a specific make and model of an aircraft.

“The seeming disregard for negative safety impacts, administrative feasibility, and operational experience while advancing new policies and bureaucratic processes being perpetrated from the Office of the Chief Counsel stands in stark contrast to longstanding Flight Standards regulations, policies, practices, and procedures that have made and kept our National Airspace System the safest in the world,” the organizations said. “We are prepared to use all available means to ensure this situation is corrected as soon as possible.”

In light of the “enormous confusion” created by the agency guidance, the organizations urge the agency to issue a statement that it would not take legal enforcement action until a resolution has been reached.

“We need to get this flight training issue cleared up as quickly as possible and by any means possible,” said Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) president Mark Baker after the FAA issued the guidance. “I can assure you we will not stop until this situation is resolved and common sense prevails.”

In addition to AOPA, the letter was signed by the Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, National Air Transportation Association, Flight School Associations of North America, International Council of Airshows, Helicopter Association International, National Association of Flight Instructors, North American Trainer Association, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and NBAA.