General aviation advocacy groups are raising the alarm that the FAA’s initial perspective of a court decision on flight training could have “serious and negative implications on the broader flight-training community.”
The 10 groups, in a June 8, 2021, letter to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson warns that the agency’s view on the recent Warbird Adventures decision — which calls flight instruction in a student’s own aircraft “common carriage” — will “hugely” impact Certified Flight Instructors and the entire flight training community.
The Warbird Adventures case started when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was asked to review an FAA emergency cease-and-desist order received by Warbird Adventures, which was offering flight instruction in limited category aircraft without an exemption to FAR 91.315. A limited category aircraft is an aircraft not designed to meet current FAA certification requirements, such as warbirds. The court’s decision declining to review the emergency cease-and-desist order included an analysis stating that a student paying for flight instruction is “being carried for compensation.”
GA alphabet groups quickly appealed to the FAA to provide guidance on this analysis. The agency’s view was provided in a June 4, 2021, letter from Ali Bahrami, FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, which will be followed by a more formal policy statement.
The FAA’s latest perspective opined that a flight instructor who is 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. Furthermore, the FAA’s letter stated that the same prohibitions may extend to an instructor providing flight training in an experimental or primary category aircraft.
Calling the guidelines in the FAA’s response “unnecessary and unwarranted” and based on “irrational legal positions,” the letter sent from the 10 aviation groups stated that “if the FAA were to issue and implement these proposed new policies, they will likely invite unnecessary legal battles while degrading safety.”
The letter went on to point out that accessible flight training is the cornerstone of aviation and comprises what makes the U.S. aviation system the safest in the world.
“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 and CEO Mark Baker. “I can assure you we will not stop until this situation is resolved and common sense prevails.”
The GA organizations tried to avoid this issue by filing a “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) brief in the case to the DC Court of Appeals. In that brief, GA advocates cautioned the court to “narrowly tailor its decision to avoid negative implications for a wide variety of flight instruction provided to owners in their own aircraft,” according to AOPA officials.
The June 8 letter specifically addressed four potentially negative implications of the FAA’s current stance:
- 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 (LODA)
- 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
- Limiting access to flight training in a specific make and model of an aircraft.
The letter adds that the FAA’s perspective is “contrary to the agency’s longstanding commitment to policies, practices, and procedures that have made and kept this nation’s National Airspace System the safest in the world.”
Besides AOPA, other GA organizations joining in the fight include the Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, Helicopter Association International, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, National Association of Flight Instructors, Flight School Associations of North America, and the International Council of Airshows.