FAA’s grant of NBAA’s Exemption creates Two Important Lessons

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A simple renewal of an FAA exemption, Small Aircraft exemption 7897F, provides an excellent example of two important lessons.

First, NBAA does a great job representing its members and this regulatory action by the association demonstrates the value of “leverage” to the companies which pay its dues. Individual operators do not have the time, budgets or credibility to seek the special authority to permit, among other things, limited cost reimbursement when flying small (less than 12,500#) aircraft.

That FAA discretionary action provides NBAA members with much greater operational flexibility as well as permission to “charge” certain passengers on flights. Carefully analyzed, Exemption 7897F creates an exception to an economic test which differentiates what safety rules apply.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of this application is the credibility of NBAA and its staff with the FAA technical experts at headquarters. Based on past history, the regulator knows that NBAA members can be relied upon; because the trade association communicates with the GS-12s – 15s, not just the senior executives, about what this segment of aviation is doing to advance safety.

Second, this finding as to 14 CFR §91.501 provides an important precedent for the complex and contentious debate over commercial uses of sUAS aircraft. The FAA has relied on the legal tests which it has used to differentiate between flights which must be operated by certificated carriers and those which need not meet the more exacting safety rules of Parts 121, 129 and 135. In deciding what constitutes “compensation or hire” (see 6 of the linked article for the context of this issue).

Suffice it to say that the FAA’s standard, briefly summarized as “any part of a commercial venture, was established to make the rule enforceable. It is an economic/financial criteria applied to safety rules. The FAA would have to employ a massive accounting organization to determine the lawfulness of an operation if the test was more complex.

The FAA’s exemption, the 14 CFR 91.501, created a limited exception to the hard “compensation or hire” rule. The FAA could , may yet (the comment docket for the proposed 14 CFR Part 107 is still open–Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (PDF)) , exempt the operators of the small UAS aircraft from the broad definition of “commercial. Given the enormity of the surveillance of all UAS operations, it might make sense for the FAA not to include economics in the sUAS regulation. There’s precedent for such an exemption.

Small Aircraft exemption 7897F reminds the aviation industry of the leverage value of an association representing its members before the FAA. That precedent should provide the FAA with a basis to find that sUAS operators to fly their aircraft as part of a company’s business need not be “economically” regulated.

Food for thought!!

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