Some Thoughts On FAR 103
Over the years, I have flown 'ultralights' under several different forms of regulation. The early hang gliders were basically exempt from much since they stayed away in the mountains or down on the water being towed. The early ULs had several types of regulation which were very misunderstood by myself and others.
We operated by so many different sets of rules from the FAA and and many other sets of rules from the insurance companies, the airport owners and even the magazine writers, unsure of the rules, would often invent a composite rule based on a lack of hands on knowledge.
It was all good fun and the real problems were minor. Perceived problems were everywhere however and we are still worried about the 'crash in the crowded schoolyard' scenario. Most of the predicted problems have not even shown their face let alone become a minor problem. It is sort of funny that anecdotal evidence of problems abounds but hard evidence and my personnal experience shows a working system that has caused few if any incidents involving the public.
I'm sure there have been incidents that the FAA and airport owners, etc, would rather not have happened. Perhaps I would wish the same if I knew the details, but the point is that our lives are so intertwined with each other that we must accept the involvment of others if we are going to involve others. Sort of like the 'do unto others' thing only applied to ultralights. We can't eliminate the RV owners recreational vehicles from the entire US just because one of them hit another car any more than we should never allow two-place ultralights to operate because someone was injured in one as a passenger.
The single seat ULs have shown themselves to be rather a safe form of flight over the years. Again the perception of the public is to ignore them since we so rarely are seen by the public. Why the FAA and theEAA keep carping about 'the public this' and 'the public that' is beyond me. The public doesn't really know or care one way or the other. If you go out of your way to ask them, perhaps they would say to 'ban them all' just as I might say'ban them all' when asked about the sport of hunting. I have no particular interest in hunting but have known of people to be hurt or killed in hunting related accidents. But to eliminate hunting is not my intention at all but if asked an opinion, I will base that opinion on my limited knowledge of the sport. Everyone wants an asphalt highway but nobody wants an asphalt plant in their backyard, nor would I. We all drive cars but to have a junkyard in your backyard....
The solution to our future flying activities must come from the people doing it, here and now, not the 'public'. To this end we must discuss the past, the present and the future. The history of ultralights has given us a wonderful amount of rather subjective data to use in our planning. Crashes there have been but for the most part, almost any of the pilots of ULs can tell you what causes crashes, injuries and death. The FAA doesn't keep good statistics on ULs since they have chosen to call them air vehicles, not airplanes. The USUA has an accident reporting system which requires instructors to report accidents to USUA headquarters. We are also reporting mechanical problems during the year upon reinstating the instructor certificates.
I'm sure these statistics would show that the majority of accidents can be eliminated by training. I would suggest that changes to the system be written such that instruction is encouraged. I didn't say mandated since it will be impossible to police any such action by the FAA. Encouraging people to get training means to provide a benefit resulting from the training. This could be as simple as allowing the weight to exceed the present limit of 254 pounds. It could be as simple as allowing the fuel limit of five gallons to be waived provided a CG calculation had been done for the tanks both full and empty.
The first organization to provide real benefits from membership, lessons and passing a test will reap a significant increase in membership. The present organizations have very distant benefits of membership at the present such as 'supporting a national organization' pushing the ul agenda. Increases in weight and fuel should be in line with the world standards which the US has not done in the past. The industry will profit from the additional sales. The sport will benefit from increased sales and many, many ul pilots won't be flying in the 'shade of illegality'.
The two-place situation will take more understanding. While there are a few two-place craft that are legal with n-numbers and licensed pilots, the vast majority of them are flown as unlicensed. Many of these have licensed pilots flying them too, some not meeting currency requirements. Probably half are unlicensed and flown by people with no license.
The overall success rate of this rather large group of planes is good to say the least. The occasional accident which injures the participants is very rare. This group increases when the many instructors from the different training programs are added. This added group has fairly good records kept, and with the training at high levels, provides a large amount of flying hours upon which to base decisions.
The consensus of many is that the step from the 'no license required' of the single place planes to the private certificate required for the 'two-place' is a rather big jump considering the type of flying and the complexity of the flying environment in which most UL type operations take place.
If a private ticket requires 20 hours of solo and 40 hours of total time, the UL two-place equivalent should be around 10 hours of dual and 20 hours of total time. These would be minimums just as the private requirements are minimums. I also feel that UL pilots should get a benefit for logging hours. I was very careful to log each and every flight when I started but this turned to estimating hours for the month to not logging anything any more. There is no 'benefit' to spending the time!
If the entire system were to be modified, I would leave 103 alone at the bottom. This would keep the legal ones legal and make most of the illegal ones legal through the new regs.
The new flyers would accept the new regs as the way it is and most of the present flyers would accept the above as the way it should be.