Concerned that a recent U.S. Appeals Court ruling has created confusion and could restrict access to flight training, three general aviation associations are urging the FAA to clarify its approach to compensation for flight instruction, testing, and line checks. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association, and General Aviation Manufacturers Association made that appeal in an April 19 letter to FAA associate administrator for aviation safety Ali Bahrami, following the April 2 court finding in Warbird Adventures v. the Federal Aviation Administration.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals determined 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 While that determination was unpublished—which the organizations said means the court did not see precedential value in the finding—the characterization still raises concerns of “significant domino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 court’s characterization of instructor compensation as payment for carriage of persons is contrary to the FAA’s long-standing position,” the associations said, calling flight training a “cornerstone for safe flight operations.”
This case involved warbirds, or limited-category civil aircraft, which 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 aircraft in the absence of an exemption.
In its ruling, the court had 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.
However, the court went further to state that a flight instructor who receives compensation for flight instruction is carrying persons for compensation or hire, AOPA said.
Worried about the ramifications of the court interpretation, the associations had filed a briefing. “We filed the brief with the court for just this reason,” said AOPA president and CEO Mark Baker. “We’ve been concerned that a decision from the court, which may have limited understanding and appreciation of standard aviation practices, can have a negative and wider downstream impact on flight training. It’s important that the FAA clarify the practical impact of this ruling on flight training, as a whole.”
The ruling raises a range of concerns, the organizations said. They noted that aircraft used in flight training come from a variety of operational types, including individual ownership, shared ownership, flight clubs, flight schools, and air carriers. The organizations asked the FAA to clarify how the court’s ruling might impact flight training in these aircraft.