Additional pilot now allowed on homebuilt first flights

The FAA recently released AC 90-116, the Additional Pilot Program (APP) for Phase I flight testing, of homebuilt aircraft, which allows homebuilders to have a qualified additional pilot on board during Phase I flights.

Before this program, builders were only permitted to have “required crew” aboard for initial flights, which usually meant that every Phase I experimental-amateur built (E-AB) aircraft was legally required to be flown solo, according to officials with the Experimental Aircraft Association.

EAA advocacy and safety staff worked closely with members of EAA’s Homebuilt Aircraft Council, Safety Committee, and the FAA to craft the program, EAA official said,

EAA officials also noted that this policy change comes after years of data suggesting that the most accidents in the E-AB fleet occur in aircraft during their first eight hours of operation, and that the majority of those accidents were related to pilot loss of control and were preventable

With the new policy, officials with both the EAA and FAA hope to reduce the rate of these accidents by having a qualified and experienced additional pilot on board the aircraft with the builder who can fly the aircraft safely, even in the face of unexpected rigging problems or engine stoppages.

The APP is a voluntary alternative program, and builders who want to undertake the first flights of their aircraft alone are not affected in any way, EAA officials noted. The program is currently available to builders of most E-AB kits with manufacturer recommended engine installations.

“This is the first time that builders can get the best of both worlds: Going airborne on the plane’s first flights and having an experienced test pilot on board to add an additional layer of safety,” said Tom Charpentier, EAA government advocacy specialist. “The APP is a great example of a program that is a constructive response to safety data, and it has significant potential to reduce the number of Phase I accidents for our community. We hope this will set the stage for additional positive reforms in the future.”