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Wed, Jan 29, 2003

ASTM/Sport Pilot Meeting: Making Good Progress!

The first day of an Aero-News Network-sponsored two-day intensive get-together for industry heavyweights devoted to building the oh-so-necessary (and mandated) consensus standards for Sport Pilot certification has been a good one. According to ASTM International's (the body that will be carrying the flag for these industry designed aircraft certification standards) Dan Schultz (below, right); Tech Committee "F37," the tag for the Sport Pilot initiative, is impressing one and all with the speed with which the documents are taking shape and the professionalism of those who are writing them.

Particularly critical is the work of the fixed wing subcommittee, since most of the aircraft destined to be called "Light Sport Aircraft" or the like, are easily going to come from those ranks. Under the guidance of Tom Peghiny, a number of the most formidable documents have been put to a vote and both positive and negative comments/criticism became the task of afternoon sessions as each was addressed, and the group consulted, about what to do about them. The effort goes well… negative comments were rarely spurious, and the group made short work of most of them, with few requiring future consideration in subsequent follow-on votes. It is entirely possible; with the progress we've seen from the fixed wing subcommittee so far, that they may have a pretty full slate of standards long before the publication of the Sport Pilot regs themselves.

One note that got a lot of early attention was the effort on the part of the US Hang-Gliding Association to put standards for Aero-Towing on the agenda. While Aero-Towing was once downplayed aggressively by FAA officials, that attitude seems to have ameliorated, and standards for Aero-Towing may eventually find a use. We shall see.

Related issues are the responsibility of the "Cross-Cutting" subcommittee… a group that handles issues that share common importance to a number of other subcommittees. There are a number of them in the works but that run by Rotax guru, Eric Tucker, to provide powerplant standards seems to have made excellent, if often contested, progress. The work has been hard, but the effort looks fairly mature despite a number of commenters who, for some reason, seem to want to fight the adoption of dual ignition as a base standard. Outside of the fact that future lawsuits will eat us alive without the simple back-up and safety factor afforded by dual ignition, the fact that such systems are so easily adapted to virtually any engine is reason enough to make sure that this extra peace of mind is mandated for each standard-bearing engine.

Sue Gardner, the Manager of FAA's Light Sport Aviation effort (right), gave a briefing that covered the status of the draft rule and its eventual issuance, elements of the rule that have been modified, the eventual release of a final rule, various associated documents, future meetings, comments on Light Sport Aircraft Consensus Standards, and future FAA Handouts that will detail various aspects of Sport Pilot. Her session was somewhat informative, if a bit evasive in that specific details of the draft rule are now being kept secret (as required) in order to guard against ex parte communications. The FAA has the rule right now and hopes to give it to DOT "soon" for their approval, and that of the OMB, thereafter.

Unfortunately; this could still take quite a while. Once the FAA lets go of the rule, DOT has up to 90 days to play with it before OMB gets it… also for as much as 90 days. This gets problematic if the FAA delays the rules transfer to DOT past the end of March and DOT/OMB take their full 90 days. You see, the rule MUST see action by September 2003 in order to comply with federal mandate. If it doesn't, we run the risk of seeing the rule killed, or supplanted by an amended NPRM. The ball is, fully, now in the FAA's court… and no matter the progress of the ASTM effort, only the FAA, DOT and OMB control its future for the moment.

The Powered Parachuting standards are not as disjointed as I feared. While the standards are necessarily less complex than those for the fixed wing, ANN feared that they had gotten a mite too simple. This may be true, but the willingness we saw on their part to "fill in the blanks" bodes well for a workable standard. Excellent progress is being made in this subcommittee.

Weight-shift aircraft progress is a mite slower since subcommittee head Scott Toland doesn't have nearly as much help and talent to draw upon as other (larger) subcommittees. Regardless; this is a passionate group, and we saw some excellent and comprehensive efforts on their part that should provide a workable standard in time for the debut of the final rule.

While it was busy, it was also a pleasant get-together. ANN sponsored a catered lunch for those assembled in order to save them the time of traveling into town for munchies, and the lunch session became a very friendly, but substantive opportunity for commentary and comparison.

So... the first day was a busy one… but excellent leadership from ASTM's Dan Schultz and EAA's Earl Lawrence, as well as a concerted effort by over 60 of the aviation industry's best minds seem to show great promise for a program that was pretty much stalled and listless for several years. All of a sudden, the standards effort is heading out at breakneck speed and if the FAA, DOT or OMB doesn't drop the ball, Light Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot licenses may be available to us all before the end of 2003. We're cautiously optimistic.

FMI: http://www.astm.org

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