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Flying for Fun

How ASTM Got Involved

by Earl Lawrence

You hear it often: “I’ve always wanted to fly, but...”

That “but” can be many things to different people—money, time, access to aircraft or, as we who are involved in recreational flying refer to it, the “hassle factor.”

What is recreational flying? Recreational flying is any flying done for fun and not primarily as a means of transportation. Today, that encompasses not only type-certified aircraft such as vintage J-3 Cubs or Aeronca Champs and the various contemporary Cessna or Piper aircraft but also ultralights (single-place aircraft weighing less than 254 pounds (115 kg)) and experimental amateur-built aircraft (aircraft built from kits by people working at home). A type-certified aircraft is one that has been built and tested in accordance with the requirements of Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 23, which was written to regulate commercial, business, and transportation aircraft.


Why do money, time, and access to aircraft serve as barriers to getting started or staying involved in aviation? Currently, any aircraft sold in a ready-to-fly state must be built according to FAR Part 23. The requirements of this rule add significantly to the cost of the design and construction of such aircraft. For example, all Cessna, Piper and Beech aircraft are type-certified, and today the cheapest new Cessna or Piper aircraft sells for approximately $160,000, making them cost-prohibitive for only recreational use.

At the same time, the least complicated pilot certificate available is a recreational pilot’s certificate. The privileges granted with that certificate allow a pilot to carry one passenger in an airplane with four seats or less and to fly that airplane in an area within 50 nautical miles (92 km) of his or her home airport until such time as he or she receives an endorsement for cross-country flying. However, most flight schools are not focused on the recreational flying market, but rather point their services toward higher pilot certificates. That makes it difficult to find an instructor and a suitable recreational aircraft for training.

These struggles, combined with the ever-increasing costs of maintaining and hangaring type-certified aircraft, all equate to a hassle factor that frequently causes would-be aviation enthusiasts to decide that a boat, snowmobile, or motorcycle might meet their recreational needs easier and less expensively.

Yet, while these “hassles” have existed, the ultralight and amateur-built aircraft movements have been able to offer alternative opportunities for enthusiasts to get involved in flying, and they have proven that flying as a recreational hobby can be fun and affordable. But these movements have not fulfilled all the needs of the marketplace.

Many aviation enthusiasts are drawn to ultralights because of the limited regulations applied to these machines. A pilot's certificate is not needed to fly an ultralight, and many people are able to learn to fly these aircraft in as little as 10 hours. The machines themselves are not required to meet any level of certification, thereby making their construction less expensive.

However, ultralights are single-place machines, and as is frequently the case in whatever we do in life, people like to share their fun with someone else. That situation has created a desire among enthusiasts for similar two-seat machines. But, FAA, in fulfilling their charter to protect people and property, has steadfastly required that anyone flying a passenger must hold a minimum of a recreational pilot's certificate. And, while two-seat ultralights do exist, they are limited to instructional use only. That situation has essentially left the ultralight industry unable to serve the desires of the marketplace.

Similarly, amateur-built aircraft offer another opportunity for enthusiasts to have easier access to aircraft. Amateur-built aircraft do not need to meet the stringent requirements of FAR Part 23, and thus can be sold at a lower cost and can incorporate changing technology more readily into the designs. That allows the aircraft to have a more appealing, up-to-date appearance as compared to older, type-certificated aircraft.

However, the builder of an amateur-built aircraft must do 51 percent or more of the construction of the aircraft. Depending on the aircraft, that process can take hundreds to thousands of hours of construction, time that can span over two or three to several years. And, that's time many busy bread-earners don't have to dedicate to a hobby.

Again, would-be aviation enthusiasts have been attracted to this type of aircraft because of their lower cost and appeal but find the construction requirements burdensome. If a similar aircraft were offered in a ready-to-fly version, it would be popular in the marketplace. However, FAA currently requires that all aircraft sold as ready-to-fly be type-certified.

The FAA Makes Room for Growth

Accordingly, in order for the recreational aviation community and industry to grow and meet customer desires, the FARs needed to be changed to allow for a new class of pilots and aircraft. To address this desire, the Federal Aviation Administration created a working group of industry and FAA representatives to develop a new set of rules for recreational aircraft. In early 2002 the FAA released those proposed new regulations, which would establish a new pilot certificate— “sport pilot”—with training requirements appropriate to recreational flying, and a new aircraft category—light-sport aircraft—that would allow both kit and ready-to-fly aircraft to be purchased and flown.

However, rather than require the re-creational aircraft industry to meet the same stringent requirements assigned to business and tra-nsportation aircraft, FAA has ruled that the recreational aircraft industry must develop consensus standards for the design, operation, and maintenance of these new light-sport aircraft. The industry, recognizing that it needed to have standardization to improve consumer confidence in the safety of these recreational aircraft and to facilitate obtaining financing and insurance, has accepted this approach. However, historically, this industry has had difficulty in reaching agreement. A third-party manager was needed to move this process forward.

As the largest recreational aviation association representing over 170,000 aviation enthusiasts, the Experimental Aircraft Association has led industry efforts to implement the proposed FAA sport pilot/light-sport aircraft regulations. In the past, EAA has worked with ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants. In our discussions with FAA on industry specifications for light-sport aircraft, EAA suggested that ASTM International would be the best facilitator for creating such standards.

ASTM International Takes Part

With the support of the FAA, EAA approached ASTM with the proposal to create a new standards committee for light-sport aircraft. EAA then hosted an industry meeting where both FAA and ASTM presented various options to more than 50 companies involved in the light-sport aircraft/recreational aviation business. It was agreed at this meeting to move forward with the establishment of the new ASTM Committee F37 for Light-Sport Aircraft.

What particularly attracted EAA to ASTM was the quality of the staff, the structure of committees, and the experience in bringing together other industries to successfully develop true consensus standards. What is important for this effort to be successful is to ensure that all sectors of the industry, including producers, consumers, and government regulators, have an opportunity to participate in the process and have the confidence that they have a fair and equal opportunity to develop the final consensus standards.

Past efforts to create industry standards within the ultralight and light plane community failed as they were not market relevant. Now, the industry has a regulatory requirement to develop specifications for the design of their products. In addition, FAA has stated that it has neither the manpower nor sees the need for the same level of oversight for these recreational aircraft as is required for business and transportation aircraft.

All these factors have come together to create an atmosphere conducive to supporting the development of consensus standards. The proposed new regulations for light-sport aircraft follow a trend developing in other countries that have significant recreational aviation activities, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The development of these new rules and standards is being influenced by similar work that has been done in these countries. It is hoped that the standards under development will be adopted internationally for light-sport aircraft, thus creating greater market opportunities for American manufacturers and positively influencing our nation's balance of trade.

While some may suggest that the attention being devoted to recreational aviation is indulging the interests of a limited group of citizens, that view is, in fact, short sighted. The aviation infrastructure of this country is vital to our nation's safety and economic health. The ability to safeguard our skies and to move people, cargo, and commerce across our country is para-mount. However, it's important to remember that our aviation infrastructure is a feeder chain. The pilots and maintenance personnel who eventually fly and maintain our military and commercial aircraft all must begin at the most basic level and develop their skills. If the barriers to aviation stop people from becoming involved, we limit our nation's human resources in aviation. For all these reasons, EAA believes the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft initiative is one of the most important rulemaking activities upon which FAA has embarked in years. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Earl Lawrence is vice president, government and industry relations, with EAA. In his current position he manages four EAA offices including the Washington Office, Ultralight Programs, Safety Programs and the Government Relations Office. Lawrence is responsible for developing EAA’s responses to FAA proposed rule changes and in assisting FAA to formulate advisory and policy materials regarding experimental and light-sport aircraft certification.