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Friday, February 16, 2007

FAA Air Tour Rules Receive Initial Industry Okay

While the industry continues to analyze the 170-page rulemaking designed to improve safety in the air tour industry, general aviation and air taxi interests gave it initial approval saying the final rule responded to their deepest concerns. Both Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and National Air Transportation Association (NATA) indicated they are continuing their review of the final rule but added it allows for flightseeing operation to continue under Part 91 regulation under certain conditions such as requiring a Letter of Authorization for commercial tour operators. Previously, the groups opposed the new regulation which required full air carrier certification for such flights. However, it increased the hours necessary to fly charity flights from 200 to 500 hours, which, according to AOPA cuts the pilot pool by 22 percent.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it did not go far enough and did not include several of the recommendations that came out of two accidents in Hawaii. (See related story.)
AOPA said that the rules “are easier than expected on commercial operators and tougher than anticipated on so-called charity flights.” The three-year rulemaking yielded a very different final rule, the organization said, adding while more paperwork is required of commercial operators, it continued the so-called 25-mile rule, allowing Part 91 operations as long as the flight begins and ends at the same airport and does not extend more than 25 miles from the airport.
“We are pleased that the final rule protects the long-standing tradition of permitting local sightseeing flights by private operators,” said NATA President James K. Coyne, who added the agency heeded calls that certain provisions of Part 136 were unnecessary.
“Elimination of this provision would have devastated many small businesses and deprived the public of the all-too-rare opportunity to experience flight in a general aviation aircraft. Proposals to establish nationwide standoff distances, minimum altitudes, cloud clearance and visibility requirements were all removed from the final rule.”
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