Vol. 5 November 2007
Velocity's Quarterly Whenever-We-Get-Around-To-It Newsletter
   
 
This is a ListBox

Velocity University
Scott Baker

Velocity University
Duane Swing

Another Interesting Comparison
Duane Swing & Ken Baker

Twin Dreams
Duane Swing

Flight Training
John Abraham

Are You Clear on the 51% Rule?
Duane Swing

Service Center Updates
Duane Swing

 

 

 

Are You Clear on the 51% Rule?
Duane Swing

The FAA and the EAA are trying to come up with new or more understandable rules governing the amateur building of an experimental aircraft. Abuse of the present rule is evident every where you look. The question arises: just what can we do and what can we farm out to others while staying in compliance with the law?

I guess we all know what we can do - namely, build the airplane totally by ourselves. Barring building the aircraft entirely by yourself, you run into sticky wickets.

Sticky Wicket #1: Just what can a builder “farm out” and still get the blessing of the FAA? From our research it would seem that the FAA will allow almost anything beyond the airframe building. This would be, in essence, the engine/prop installation with associated plumbing and wiring, the electrical wiring of the airframe, electrical wiring of the instrument panel and finish work including painting and upholstery. As we understand the rules from the FAA, the builder would not have to be present during these operations. All of these, however, represent items the FAA wants to review to determine if one or more  violate the 51% rule.

Sticky wicket #2 is that if the builder wanted to hire someone to HELP HIM with the airframe building process, this is also OK with the FAA as long as the owner/builder is present. The sticky wicket part is in regard to the hiring of a “professional” to be your helper. The FAA would like to restrict ALL assistance to only un-paid help. For instance, if a school were to build an experimental aircraft the students doing the building are not being paid. The same if you got your neighbor to help you with the building and you do not pay him. In reality, however, it is virtually impossible for the FAA to find absolute clarity on this rule. With Glasair, Lancair, Epic, Vans, Velocity and others offering builder assistance with the help being paid, it is not an easy task for the FAA to clarify a rule where almost every kit manufacturer is assuming they are already OK.
 
Is there any scenario that would allow the owner to “farm out” all the building of his or her experimental airplane without the owner being present and still get the blessing from the FAA? The answer is an absolute NO!!! We have heard that forming a Corporation with the airplane being built and registered to this corporation using professional assistance was OK. Not so, unless an officer of the corporation is present and supervises the building of this airplane. It has also been reported that if the owner of an experimental airplane forms a partnership with a professional builder, and actually shows that both parties are co-registered owners and co-builders of the airplane, then the FAA would have no jurisdiction on which one actually spent the most time building the airplane. This is probably the only scenario that might work. Again the sticky wicket is that one of the two people are paid and thus the “amateur” status might be found in conflict with the rules.

What could happen if you were actually caught in violation of the 51% rule? You could face a fine of at least $10,000 plus loss of the amateur status of your aircraft. This does not mean that you get to go pro. This means that the airplane could be licensed only as an "experimental exhibition airplane." For just about all of us, this is not an acceptable classification due to the many flight restrictions involved.

Who might be the most obvious target to the FAA for 51% investigations? You guessed right if you picked Velocity, professional builder assist centers and  other kit manufacturers who offer “assistance” in the building of their airplanes. The FAA is most concerned about those who live hundreds or even thousands of miles from where the airplane is actually being built and claim they were present and participated in the building of the airplane. The RED flags are flying.

The FAA is working hard at enforcing the 51% rule so keep your records clean with photos and a daily log to verify your involvement in the building of your airplane. If you do everything correctly, you qualify for a “repairman’s certificate” that will allow you to do all the work and Conditional Inspections on your aircraft.

As you all know, there is certainly a gray area regarding the certification of an amateur built aircraft and the rules are violated every day. It would be great if the FAA left it up to you and me to do what we want. This is not going to happen and the FAA is not going to give up without a fight, but If you cover all your bases, and carefully document your project, everything will be fine.