Lawmakers Step Into Warbird Training Dispute

 - July 23, 2021, 11:08 AM

U.S. Congress is jumping into the growing controversy surrounding the treatment of flight training in experimental/limited-category aircraft with two lawmakers—Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri)—introducing companion bills to clarify that such activity does not constitute commercial operation.

The Certainty for General Aviation Pilots Act of 2021 Act, introduced on July 22 in both the House and Senate, clarifies that “individuals engaged in aircraft flight instruction or testing, including phased testing of experimental aircraft, are not operating an aircraft carrying persons or property for compensation or hire.”

These bills are intended to “reverse the damaging impact of an FAA directive” calling on pilots who receive training in experimental aircraft and instructors who are paid to provide that training to first obtain letters of deviation authority from the FAA, AOPA said. The association further noted that, under the directive, pilots and instructors involved in paid flight training in limited or primary category aircraft must first obtain a regulatory exemption.

The directive came after a federal court upheld the FAA’s cease-and-desist order against Warbird Adventures for conducting paid instructional flights in a limited-category Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. The FAA determined that when the student paid for the instruction, the student was being carried “for compensation,” a finding that likened the operation to a commercial one.

“The bureaucratic response from the FAA’s legal office actually impedes safety, which is unacceptable,” said Mark Baker, president of AOPA, which has been fighting the FAA determination. “We will work with our industry partners and our membership to support legislation in Congress so we can bring clarity and coherence to this whole issue.”

In introducing the bill, Graves expressed concern that the change on flight training legal guidance may “put 40,000 general aviation pilots in regulatory non-compliance overnight. Besides creating a significant amount of confusion, the FAA needlessly added more bureaucratic red tape for pilots that does nothing to improve aviation safety.” Inhofe added that the bill “would remove new and unnecessary regulations and get pilots safely back to the skies.”

Eleven aviation organizations offered support for the bill in letters to the lawmakers.