The below article reports about deaths of two people on an ultra-light flight in Hawai’i. The lesson of this tragic accident is that although the FAA’s definition of what may or may not be done in an airplane is broad, there are good reasons for these arbitrary, but not capricious, economic regulations.
The FAA is an aviation safety organization. Its professional staff is well trained to make and exceedingly comfortable with making judgments about what is or is not safe. Some of the standards vary based on whether the operation is for compensation of hire or NOT, critical criteria which separates levels of safety required. There, the determination of whether an endeavor makes money by “flying” or not is not an issue with which they are expert or comfortable.
Examples of this discomfort are numerous: plane-sharing (Part 91), UAS (Part 107 soon?), airports (Part 139), historic aircraft (Part 91/121), travel clubs (Part 121) and ultra-light aircraft (Part 103). In each of these contexts, there is considerable controversy about the FAA’s exercise of its economic line-drawing. Drone Nation has been especially virulent in its attack of the definition of what constitutes commercial flights in an UAS.
If one reads the commentary on these complaints, it is most obvious that the antagonism derives from the differential between the requirements imposed on commercial operations vs. those not “for compensation or hire.” One must infer that the burdens imposed for flights requiring a higher level of safety must create a massive incentive to avoid the FAA’s economic line and to fly under the looser standards.
When Part 103 was issued to permit ultra-light flying (a new form of aviation in 1982), the rule makers attempted to give the operators as much latitude as possible. Because these new flying vehicles could be made and operated without any certification (14 CFR §103.7), there were limits placed on where and when they could be flown. The rules (14 CFR §103.1(b)) mandated that their use was limited to “recreation or sport purposes only.”
In an effort to help the manufacturers/distributers to sell ultra-lights to new fliers (one of the goals of the Part 103 scribes was to create a gateway to aviation through these simple machines), an exception was created to the “recreation or sport” prescription; that is, a flight might be allowed when the purpose was to teach a prospective flier to fly these simple machines.
Evidentially, one or more Kauai pilot-owners were drawn to stretch that interpretation. The article infers that they tried to stretch that “loophole” to be compensated for “teaching” tourists on aerial tours of their scenic island. They took the visitors on “education” flights which gave great vistas of the areas. The consequence of their “disagreement” with the FAA’s hard economic line is the deaths of the pilots and their “students.”
The rules may not make sense to the average aviator, but the risks and consequences of ignoring the regulations/interpretations are severe. You may not agree with the FAA economic bright lines, but there are substantial reasons to comply, as these cases make clear.