Four California Airports Off-Limits To Some Homebuilts, Warbirds

The EAA says it’s making progress in reversing or modifying restrictions on experimental aircraft imposed on four busy California airports by the Van Nuys Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). In April of 2004, then-FSDO Manager Robyn Miller issued a memo that effectively barred some experimental aircraft from regular operations at Van Nuys, Whiteman, Burbank and Santa Barbara airports. Most experimentals are homebuilts but many warbirds are operated in the experimental category, also. The memo says that “phase II and ‘normal’ operations [by experimentals] will not be allowed” at the four airports although “exceptions may be made based upon current office policy, certification category, aircraft type and operator experience.” The memo did contain a grandfather clause allowing existing experimentals to continue using the fields until they are moved, sold or the nature of their operation is changed. The memo also bans initial flight and phase I testing of experimentals at the airports. EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski said the organization has been aware of the memo since it was issued last year and has worked behind the scenes to help individual pilots at the affected airports. However, Knapinski said the memo is fundamentally flawed in that it can only apply to aircraft that the local authorities are familiar with. “The way it stands now, there’s nothing to stop someone from flying an experimental aircraft in from somewhere else, overnighting and taking off the next day,” said Knapinski. “It creates two different levels of enforcement.” … And perhaps enforcement by personal interpretation. In addition to helping pilots at the affected airports, Knapinski said EAA has been lobbying FAA officials on the matter. “We’ve been after the FAA about this and I think we’re making some progress,” he said. Knapinski said the Van Nuys memo was “enacted at the local level” and allowing such local interpretation can cause problems. “Those levels of various rulemaking in these instances is something that EAA is constantly working against, because it leads to confusion in the pilot community,” he said.

Van Nuys FSDO Manager Richard Swanson said his office is merely spelling out a policy that has been directed by the FAA administrator. Swanson said all offices were asked to review their policies with respect to the operating limitations that come with flying an experimental aircraft. He said the limitations vary depending on aircraft type and use, but, in general, experimental aircraft are not supposed to fly over congested areas and the four California airports are all in heavily populated areas with busy airspace. But he noted that doesn’t necessarily mean that all experimentals are banned from using the airports because many homebuilts have an exception in their operating limitations that allows them to fly over developed areas and in congested airspace for landing and takeoff. “Each pilot has to be aware of the operating limitations of the aircraft,” he said. Swanson said the difference between a homebuilt and a certified aircraft is that a certified plane is theoretically a “known entity” that has been through airworthiness processes and is supposed to be maintained to those standards. Experimental aircraft don’t have that paper trail and that’s why the limitations are in place. “It’s really a certification issue,” he said. “Our task, after all, is to protect the general public.” He also noted that it would be impossible for his office to monitor transient traffic and determine which experimentals are allowed to use the four airports. He said it’s up to the aircraft owners to make sure they operate within the rules and all it takes is a ramp check to determine if they are being followed. The devil’s in the paperwork.

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