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Mon, Sep 12, 2011

FAA's 600 Pound Gorilla: Just What Is AIR-200 Up To???

FAA Office Appears To Have Little Problem Throwing Its Weight Around -- For The Second Time In A Month

In breaking the story about the FAA's shutdown of an LSA manufacturer via a "prototype" auditing system that was so new that only a few such audits had been conducted, ANN heard a number of rumblings from the aviation industry about concerns with the FAA's AIR-200 office and its alleged willingness to come down hard on segments of the sport aviation community.

As previously noted, an August 30th memo sent to "All Manufacturing Inspection Offices, All Manufacturing District/Satellite Offices, All Certificate Management Offices/Units, All Flight Standards Divisions, All Flight Standards District Offices, and all Aircraft Registration Branch AFS-750 (with an additional notation recommending the memo's dissemination to "appropriate designees"), by Terry Allen, the Acting Manager, Production and Airworthiness, for AIR-200 caused QUITE the fuss. To many, Allen appeared to be 'making good' on the FAA's promise/threat (issued last year after touring LSA facilities throughout the nation) to step up the surveillance and involvement in the LSA industry.

The Memo stated that, "This memorandum prohibits the issuance of special flight permits, special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA) and experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) airworthiness certificates to all Storch FI-156 airplanes manufactured by Criquet Aviation USA, Inc." It was heavy-duty stuff... but it raised more questions than answers... some ponderous ones. ANN wondered specifically as to why the FAA jumped on Criquet with such force... after waiting the better part of two months to publish their decision... and why it was reportedly disseminated first -- before Criquet got all the specifics of what they were being busted over -- and why most of the issues seemed more oriented towards paperwork items than actual safety of flight issues (according to Criquet... which is the only report we have since the FAA WILL NOT ANSWER ANY MORE QUESTIONS about this). 

At the time, we had also been informed of yet another action by AIR-200 that raised questions... enough for one aviation luminary to label their actions, 'draconian.' On August 18th, that FAA office (again under the signature of Terry Allen) seemed to be targeting the high-performance warbird community... and one company, in particular. The memo, instigated by AIR-200 and prepared by AIR-230, was entitled "Restrictions on the Issuance of Airworthiness Certificates for Sophisticated and High-Performance Former Military Aircraft."

The memo stated that, "...This memo restricts the issuance of experimental airworthiness certificates (including amendments) for sophisticated and high-performance former military aircraft (including replica turbine-powered aircraft). A sophisticated and high-performance former military aircraft includes those weighing more than 10,000 lbs., and powered by turbojet engines rated above 3,000 lbs. of thrust (total engine thrust of all engines). The airworthiness certificates for this type of aircraft would be experimental exhibition aircraft under Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) § 21.191 (d) or air racing under 14 CFR § 21.191 (e).

Any application for experimental airworthiness certificates for the purpose of operating sophisticated and high-performance former military aircraft as experimental exhibition or air racing must be coordinated with AIR-200 before any action is taken. AIR-200 will coordinate with Flight Standards (AFS-300 and AFS-800) and provide specific guidance for the issuance of these airworthiness certificates. This activity shall not be delegated to designees.

The FAA determined that many sophisticated and high-performance former military aircraft may have safety issues that could prevent the issuance of an airworthiness certificate without additional aircraft-specific operating limitations not covered in FAA Order 8130.2, Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft and Related Products.

These aircraft have inherent high-risk factors associated with their design, manufacture, maintenance, and operation. These high-risk factors must be properly mitigated."

The letter basically strips the local (and usually most experienced) FAA offices of the ability to work with their own community's warbird operations for a number of high-performance ops -- and forces these operations to deal with the Washington DC Puzzle Palace -- and AIR-200 DIRECTLY... and seems to be particularly targeted toward retired Boeing staffer Bob Hammer's stunning ME-262 recreations. Hammer's ops have already produced two flying ME-262 replicas, one doing duty here in the USA, the other in Germany, with a combined total of some 200 flight hours, and powered by modern J-85/CJ-610 engines. A third bird is in flight test and the latest restrictions for that third aircraft, imposed after two successful long-term (and well-documented) build and test flight programs, are allegedly far more restrictive than the first two... and for no known reason.

Worse... Hammer did not fall off the aero-turnip truck yesterday... the guy was Boeing's Chief Engineer, Director of Quality Control and Director of Engineering for the B-757. Additionally; Hammer designed the composite tail sections of the B-757 and B-767, and was also the Chief Engineer of Structures in the B-2 bomber program. He still holds the US Patent for the B-2 bomber's wing. In addition all that, the guy has serious bona fides in the experimental and warbird community, to boot. In other words... the guy is NOT an Amateur.

Inside sources confirm that Hammer's local office had no problem working with him, directly, and seem a mite out of joint with having Washington pull the rug out from under them... "we see these guys on a regular basis, we KNOW them... heck, we know their operations rather well after a number of year's inspections and such... since when does AIR-200 think they know how to do our job better then we do?" noted one local FAA staffer, speaking 'on background.'

The warbird community is concerned... and grumblings suggest that at least one AIR-200 staffer is trying to make himself indispensable to the future supervision of certain segments of the aviation business in order to seek better opportunities down the road... while others see it as nothing more than the "Usual FAA Power Grab." Mind you, the FAA won't explain themselves... so we don't have much to go on... but it all seems more than a mite strange.

Regardless, ANN has inquiries in as to the rationale behind both recent actions undertaken by AIR-200... but based upon the Fed's refusal to discuss the LSA matter, we're not too hopeful about a breakthrough in this story anytime soon. Still, stay tuned... we have some alternate inquiries on this matter and will update it as soon as we have definitive info to impart.

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/offices/air/hq/prod_airworthiness/, www.stormbirds.com

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