Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Personal Aviation At A Crossroads

Looking back and moving forward

Whereas recreational pilot and primary category rules could be viewed as using a “top-down” philosophy (the existing system of heavy governmental oversight is maintained, yet the requirements to meet them simplified), it could be said that ultralight and light-sport rules use a “bottom-up” philosophy (based on long-established operating practice, a new system was created that gives the industry more responsibility and allows authorities to focus on broader, essential regulations).

In the early days, there had been a (maybe false) expectation that the industry, user groups and FAA would form an alliance or partnering scheme to oversee manufacturing and operations. The light-sport rule appears to have taken the idea to a new level. Industry and affected interest groups are creating globally recognized standards. The FAA is participating in the process as an equal. Organizations like LAMA are offering compliance auditing services.

Personal aviation is now at a crossroads, and the question remains: Will the FAA and NTSB find that, while not perfect, the declarative system based on industry safety standards is a good model to keep? If they do, this could impact what EASA does and possibly create the opportunity for a worldwide aviation safety standard! This would greatly benefit manufacturers who could provide the public with more choices at a reduced ownership cost. It would also give industry and operators more responsibility with less government regulation. Given the decline in personal aviation activity worldwide over the past several decades, this may just be the kind of thinking needed to revitalize aviation for years to come.

Tom Gunnarson is a 28-year veteran of the recreational aviation industry. He’s the former president of LAMA and is currently the secretary of the ASTM F37 Committee on LSA and an industry analyst in the FAA Light Sport Program Office in Kansas City, Mo.


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