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Flight manual requirements for amateur-built experimental aircraft

Issue number: AO-2014-163-SI-01
Who it affects: Operators of amateur-built experimental aircraft
Issue owner: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Operation affected: Aviation: General aviation
Background: Investigation Report AO-2014-163
Date: 14 April 2016

Safety issue description

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority did not require builders of amateur‑built experimental aircraft to produce a flight manual, or equivalent, for their aircraft following flight testing. Without a flight manual the builder, other pilots and subsequent owners do not have reference to operational and performance data necessary to safely operate the aircraft.

Response to safety issue

In response to this safety issue, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) advised that:

CASA would like to note that an experimental aircraft must be placarded accordingly to ensure occupants are aware that they fly at their own risk, and that CASA does not set airworthiness standards for experimental aircraft (see Civil Aviation Regulation 1988 (CAR) subregulations 262AP(8) and (9)).

The experimental certificate regulations provide for this level of safety with as much flexibility as possible. The experimental certificate, including conditions specified on or attached to the certificate, is the primary means of maintaining these minimum standards. In the case of experimental amateur built aircraft, the necessary flight restrictions and information about the aircraft, such as weight and balance, are established as part of the flight test program and included on the experimental certificate, or other appropriate method such as placards or an Aircraft Flight Manual (AFM).

The regulations clearly provide that the experimental certificate system is only intended to establish minimum safety standards for other airspace users and people on the ground (see Civil Aviation Safety Regulation 1998 (CASR) subregulation 11.055(1C)). An AFM is not required under the regulations for experimental amateur built aircraft however CASA recommends an AFM be developed (see Advisory Circular (AC) 21.4, section 17).

CASA does not fully understand the rationale behind the ATSB recommendation about mandating, rather than recommending the production of AFM for these experimentally operated aircraft given the non-existence of an AFM for this aircraft had no effect on the incident (as acknowledged in the report on page 10).

CAR 138 states that if a flight manual has been issued then the pilot must comply with it. CASA acknowledges that mandating an AFM for experimental amateur built aircraft may improve safety for subsequent owners and other pilots than the original owner/builder/pilot. However, the experimental certificate system functions as intended by the current regulations (ie. to ensure the safety of other airspace users and people on the ground).

CASA currently recommends an AFM be produced for experimental amateur built aircraft, but changing this to a mandatory requirement would incur a significant cost to the owners/operators. CASA does not believe this incident in isolation provides sufficient justification this change to the legislation given the other safety protections that are already established.

It is noted that the Sports Aircraft Association of Australia (SAAA) Maintenance Procedures Course at Topic 4 (attached) on pages 14–16 recommends how to prepare a Pilots Operating Handbook (POH) for an amateur built using the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA) standards specification 1, this is available from the GAMA website: http://www.gama.aero/industry-standards.

CASA does not believe there needs to be a regulatory requirement for a POH, it is an SAAA recommended practice to develop one during flight testing and this should form the basis of educational information that could be sent through to all registered owners of these types of aircraft.

ATSB comment/action in response

The ATSB acknowledges that CASA and the SAAA recommend that an AFM/POH is produced as part of the flight test program required for experimental amateur built aircraft. However, the ATSB remains of the view that, while the absence of a flight manual, or equivalent, did not influence this accident, such a document should be mandatory for the following reasons:

  • Without a flight manual the builder, other pilots and especially subsequent owners do not have sufficient reference to operational and performance data necessary to safely operate the aircraft.
  • Accidents involving amateur built aircraft occur at a significantly higher rate than comparable factory built aircraft. A requirement to document important operational information would provide a valuable safety enhancement at minimal cost.

Recommendation

Action organisation: Civil Aviation Safety Authority records
Action number: AO-2014-163-SR-008
Date: 14 April 2016
Action status: Released

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau recommends that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority takes safety action to address the lack of a requirement for builders of amateur‑built experimental aircraft to produce a flight manual, or equivalent, for their aircraft following flight testing.

Correspondence

Date received: 11 May 2016
Response from: Civil Aviation Safety Authority
Action status: Released
Response text:

Safety Recommendation A0-2014-163-SR-008 is for CASA to address the safety issue and take action to address the lack of regulatory requirements for builders of amateur built experimental aircraft to produce a flight manual, or equivalent, for their aircraft following flight testing.

On this occasion CASA does not accept the ATSB recommendation. CASA currently recommends a flight manual be produced for experimental amateur built aircraft, noting they operate to a different standard to other categories of aircraft. In the case of experimental  amateur built aircraft, the necessary flight restrictions and information about the aircraft, such as weight and balance, are established as part of the flight test programme and are included on the experimental certificate, or other appropriate method such as placards or a flight manual. Therefore, CASA considers that subsequent owners and pilots other than the original owner/builder/pilot should still be able to access necessary information through these sources. CASA does not believe this incident in isolation provides sufficient justification for CASA to mandate the documentation of the relevant information referred to in the recommendation, given the other safety protections that are already established.

   
Current issue status: Safety action pending
 
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Last update 14 June 2016