Flight-Training Policy Fix In The Works

A novel court ruling threw a wrench in the not-for-hire treatment of flight instruction. Now Congress may fix it.


When a federal appeals court in April ruled, in part, that flight instruction constitutes carriage of a person for compensation, it perhaps unwittingly created a storm of uncertainty in the U.S. flight training community and those operating aircraft in the three categories primarily affected: limited, experimental and primary. As we noted in June’s issue, the court’s interpretation was that FAR 91.315 fails to provide an exemption process for those aircraft to be used for flight instruction, “which is at odds with the FAA’s long-standing regulatory treatment of the activity.”

In response, the FAA in July published a policy clarification that accomplished little more than angering general aviation’s alphabet soup. The agency’s immediate fix was to expand the process for obtaining a LODA—letter of deviation authority—to enable online requests. As we wrote at the time, “According to EAA, the FAA’s position is that ‘any instructor is ‘operating’ an aircraft, regardless of who owns, rents, or otherwise uses the aircraft, and regardless of whether the use of the aircraft is compensated. Therefore, paying any instructor to provide training violates the language of FARs 91.315 (Limited), 91.319(a)(2) (Experimental), and 91.325 (Primary).” AOPA President and CEO Mark Baker said his organization finds “a new FAA invoked paperwork process to simply obtain ‘approval’ to do what pilots have already been doing safely for years is simply mindboggling.”

Fighting Mic Fright
One of the most difficult things for many pilots to learn is using the radio to communicate with ATC. There’s often a mixture of uncertainty when talking on the radio, which experience will eventually overcome, but there’s also the sometimes subtle phraseology that may need to be learned. For example, a pilot responding “roger” doesn’t communicate much to ATC, except that they heard something. Without confirmation of a clearance via a readback or using a word like “affirmative” or “negative,” pilots can leave ATC uncertain of what you actually heard and, more importantly, what you will do next. That’s just one of the highlights of an article on Medium.com from Jennifer Caron, FAA Safety Briefing Copy Editor, reprinted from the September/October 2021 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. The article is a good primer on ATC’s communication expectations and a great review for rusty pilots. It’s online at tinyurl.com/SAF-mic.

We noted that Congress expressed interest in resolving the matter and that corrective legislation had been developed by the usual suspects: U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). With the support of AOPA and EAA, among others, they introduced identical bills into their respective houses. Since then, that legislation passed the House of Representatives on September 23, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. At this writing, the Senate version of the defense spending bill has been approved at the committee level but not yet made fully available. Since Sen. Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the relevant committee, it’s a good bet the provision he developed with Rep. Graves will be in the Senate defense bill, too.

A floor vote on the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act was expected in late October, after which designated conferees will iron out the differences. Since it’s likely both bills will contain the same provision designed to fix the FAA’s legal treatment of flight instruction in these aircraft categories, it normally wouldn’t be subject to amendment or removal, and likely would be part of the final version sent to the President’s desk for enactment.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Service Bulletins
GAJSC Safety Enhancement Topic

When you own an aircraft, you also own responsibility for its maintenance and airworthiness. If you’re doing it right, one of the things you’ve done is subscribe to the airframe and engine manufacturers’ literature updates. In that collection of documents, updated on an as-needed basis, you’ll find a wealth of information on your aircraft. Included will be access to something called a “service bulletin,” which may or may not affect how you operate and maintain it. As with so many complex topics these days, a lot of dubious information is available describing service bulletins and how owners should treat them. To help owners navigate this landscape, the FAA’s FAASTeam has published a new fact sheet designed to set the record straight on service bulletins.

For example, the new fact sheet, “Service Bulletins and the Aircraft Owner,” highlights that SBs typically are not mandatory, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. They often contain announcements of upgrades or availability of improved components. Too, a service bulletin often is referenced in an airworthiness directive, which makes it mandatory. This and other FAASTeam fact sheets are online at bit.ly/GAFactSheets.


It’s a good time to be in the general and business aviation industry. As the airlines continue to take demand hits resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, along with a few self-inflicted wounds, industry metrics point to a healthy recovery for the non-scheduled aviation segment in the U.S. For example, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), recently released its sales numbers so far in calendar 2021, and there’s a lot of good news. “Piston, turboprop, business jet and helicopter deliveries have risen across all segments during the first six months of 2021,” according to online sister publication AVweb.

Source: ETMSC
Note: Operations refer to arrivals and departures

It’s no surprise that 2021 is better for sales than 2020, when many manufacturers slowed production. Yet problems remain: “While it is encouraging to see segments improve from 2020, we still trail when compared to how the industry was faring before the onset of the pandemic,” said GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce. “Efforts to address ongoing supply chain issues, strengthen our workforce and enhance environmental sustainability will continue to be at the forefront as interest and demand for aircraft remains robust,” AVweb wrote.

Data on operations help explain the rebounding demand for new aircraft. According to WINGX, a Germany-based market research firm specializing in analyzing business aviation operations, “The European recovery is picking up rather than tapering and the US domestic market is still breaking pre-pandemic records.” The company’s September 23 Business Aviation Bulletin noted, “The domestic US market continues to move ahead of comparable 2019 activity. Over 20,000 business business [sic] jets and props have been active this month, an average of 44 hours utilisation in the first 3 weeks of September, with an aggregate activity almost 10% above that of September 2019.”

A lot of the increased activity comes from charter and fractional operators. “The Part 135 and Part 91K operators are doing best, with branded charter operations up almost 30% so far in September, versus 2 years ago,” WINGX said. “Overall domestic business jet hours are up by more than 15% versus September 2019.”

The FAA’s own data seem to confirm those of WINGX. The graph at the bottom of the page is adapted the agency’s monthly Business Jet Report for September 2021, which looked at data through August 31, and found a significant activity spike in recent months, even when compared with levels going back as far as 2013.

Only time will tell if the scheduled airlines will be giving up market share over the long haul.


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