March 05, 2008

Wyden Urges FAA to Rescind New Rule on Kit Aircraft, Prevent Job Losses in Oregon Aircraft Manufacturing

Oregon firms are the largest manufacturers of kit aircraft; new FAA moratorium on certification would put businesses and people out of work, add to economic woes

Washington, D.C. - Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asked the Federal Aviation Administration today to immediately rescind a new rule that threatens kit aircraft manufacturers in Oregon and across the country with reduced sales and worker layoffs.

"We ask that you immediately rescind the moratorium on new kit evaluations," Wyden said in a letter to Robert A. Sturgell, acting FAA administrator. "Should the FAA proposals go forward, they could significantly affect important employers at a time when the nation's economy can ill afford unnecessary actions putting firms and people out of business, without any increase in safety."

Wyden also talked directly to Sturgell, telling him that merely proposing the new rule has already had a dampening effect on the market for kit aircraft.

"The FAA's moratorium is grounding a very important Oregon industry," Wyden said. "No one is going to buy a plane that they won't be allowed to fly and that leads to fewer orders and fewer jobs."

The FAA has indicated that it wants to revise upward the calculation of the so called "51 percent rule" applicable to kit aircraft, suspend new kit evaluations and require that more of the kit plane assembly be done by the inexperienced purchaser with less help from experts with the manufacturer. The FAA also placed a moratorium on its customary practice of providing to aircraft kit manufacturers and builders courtesy evaluations, a move that has resulted in the cancellation of pending orders.

"Rescinding this rule now won't stop the loss of some jobs," Wyden said, "but it will stop the loss of hundreds more."

Oregon is home to a rapidly expanding aerospace industry, of which kit plane producers are a significant part. The majority of the nation's kit plane manufacturing and production capacity is in Oregon, and the sector acts as a proving ground for new technology and innovation in aerospace. The major manufacturers in Oregon are Lancair International in Redmond, Epic Aircraft in Bend and Van's Aircraft in Aurora.

In his letter to the FAA, Wyden pointed out that that the kit aircraft industry's evolving use of new technologies and materials to develop innovative new aircraft has occurred under close FAA review and consultation and that the kit sector of the aviation industry has played an important role in bringing new technologies into use.

"Given the importance of the kit aircraft industry and its constant compliance with all FAA regulations, we fail to understand the FAA's recent actions which will force layoffs and plant closures with no benefit to flight safety," Wyden said.