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Regulatory Brief -- Commercial Sightseeing Tours Proposed Rule

Regulatory Brief

Commercial Sightseeing Tours Proposed Rule

The issue:

On October 22, 2003, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) published in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that requires all air tour operators, with a limited exception for certain charitable and community events, to be certificated under part 119 and to bring their operations into compliance with Part 135 regulations.

The importance to our members:

The FAA's proposal will likely shrink the pool of pilots able to help local charities with fundraising flights and, by the FAA's own admission, will drive hundreds of small sightseeing operations out of the business. The proposal would raise the minimum number of hours required for private pilots conducting charity fundraising flights from 200 to 500 and remove an exemption that allows Part 91 sightseeing flights within 25 statute miles of the departure airport. Operators conducting flights under this exception will now be subject to the operational requirements of Part 135.

The data used to justify lifting the sightseeing exemption and require the operators to be certified as Part 135 are a jumble of Part 135 and Part 91 accident reports. But of the 11 accidents cited in the NPRM, eight occurred in Hawaii, and most were apparently already operating as Part 135 flights.

Most recent Web posting:

More evidence charity/sightseeing rule is unneeded

AOPA has presented even more evidence to show that the FAA's proposed charity/sightseeing rule - the National Air Tour Safety Standards - would harm charities and small businesses and is not justified by safety data. The association filed supplemental comments on the proposal Friday. "AOPA continues to oppose this rule," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "Nothing in FAA's original filing, nothing from the public comments, nothing from the public meetings shows that there is a significant safety issue on sightseeing and charity flights that must be addressed by this rulemaking initiative."

The rule would require that private pilots conducting charity sightseeing flights have at least 500 hours experience. It would also require that small sightseeing companies currently operating under Part 91 rules comply with the more restrictive Part 135 rules applying to charter operations. Even sightseeing companies currently flying under Part 135 would see greater restrictions. And that would significantly harm these small businesses.

AOPA conducted four surveys over three months to determine the actual impact.

"The surveys show that the FAA has underestimated sightseeing business closures by up to 100 percent and has failed to consider the substantial adverse economic impact on charities," Cebula said.

Of the Part 91 sightseeing operators surveyed, 82% said they would or could not comply with the proposed regulations. Some 94% said they would lose aircraft if the rule were imposed. (These businesses typically operate fewer than five aircraft and fly within 25 miles of the airport. They generally provide sightseeing rides in resort or scenic areas.)

The proposed rules covering charity flights would exclude some 21% of the current pilot population from participating in these flights. And 92% of AOPA members are opposed to rules, because of the impact on charity operations.

AOPA had argued in its previous comments that the FAA had presented flawed accident statistics to justify the rule. When the statistics were corrected, it was found that Part 91 sightseeing operations had a better accident rate than sightseeing conducted under Part 121/135 rules.

In the supplemental comments, AOPA said FAA had already addressed NTSB concerns about large, commercial sightseeing operations in current regulations. The association reminded the FAA that it had the authority to disagree with NTSB recommendations.

Significant provisions:

  • Proposed rule eliminates the exception for Part 91 non-stop sightseeing flights conducted within 25 statute miles of the departure airport that takeoff and land at the same airport. Operators conducting flights under this exception would have 180 days from the date of the final rule to file for certification under Part 119 and bring their operations into compliance with Part 135.
  • Proposed rule retains exemption for flight training, including introductory flights, and for operators conducting non-stop flights for either a charitable or community event within 25 miles of an airport.
  • Proposed rule raises the minimum number of hours required for private pilots conducting charity fundraising sightseeing flights from 200 to 500.
    • Private pilots conducting emergency or medical service flights for a charitable airlift must have a minimum of 200 hours of flight time.
  • Proposed rule establishes a new subpart A in Part 136 establishes the general safety regulations particular to all commercial air tours, including those over the Grand Canyon, and those "commercial air tour operations" conducted over national parks.
    • Flights restricted to 1500 feet AGL and visibility minimums set to 2 miles during the day and 3 miles at night.
    • Commercial operators would be subject to the safety requirements 120 days from the date of the final rule.
    • Charity or community event flights would have to begin complying with the rule's safety requirements by the effective date.
  • FAA has determined this proposed rule is not a "significant regulatory action" as defined in the Executive Order but is "significant" as defined in DOT's Regulatory Policies and Procedures; and will have a significant impact on a substantial number of small entities.
    • FAA estimates that the proposed rule could affect approximately 1,670 operators with 3,100 aircraft currently providing commercial air tour flights under Part 91.
    • The FAA estimates that about 700 Part 91 operators currently providing sightseeing flights will elect to stop providing the service.
  • Comments are due to the FAA on or before April 19, 2004.

AOPA position:

AOPA believes the proposed rule is a real slap in the face to private pilots who contribute their time and services to worthy causes, and to small business people just trying to earn an income. The FAA claims the change is for safety reasons, but they provide no safety data or statistics to justify the jump in flight hours required to conduct charitable fundraising flights. AOPA questions the need for this regulation and is concerned about the impact it will have, especially on the unique, open-air cockpit sightseeing flights in places like the Florida Keys and other tourist locales.


  • October 22, 2003 - FAA publishes Notice of Proposed Rulemaking - National Air Tour Safety Standards. Public comments on the proposed rule must be received no later than January 20, 2004. You must identify the docket number FAA-1998-4521 at the beginning of your comments. Comments may be sent to the Docket Management System, U.S. Department of Transportation, Room Plaza 401, 400 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC 20590-0001, or can be sent through the Internet to
  • November 12, 2003 - AOPA requests FAA hold public meetings to assess the impact of NPRM on charitable sightseeing events and sightseeing tours under FAR Part 91.
  • November 17, 2003 - Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) in a letter calls on the FAA to hold public meetings on proposed changes to the charity sightseeing standards.
  • December 19, 2003 - Representatives Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) each write FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, urging the agency to hold public meetings so it can better understand the impact of the proposal.
  • January 14, 2004 - AOPA asks FAA to extend the comment period for an additional 90 days and schedule public meetings.
  • January 15, 2004 - FAA extends comment period for 90 days and plans to hold "virtual" meetings in lieu of "face-to-face" public meetings. Comment period now ends April 19, 2004.
  • January 23, 2004 - Assistant Majority Whip Stevan Pearce (R-N.M.) tells FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that he is "concerned" that the agency has "failed to consider the true impact" of its rule change.
  • January 29, 2004 - FAA responds to AOPA request for public meetings.
  • February 6, 2004 - AOPA participates in a meeting with the Small Business Administration to discuss the impact of this proposal.
  • February 10, 2004 - FAA announces Internet public meetings to supplement traditional comment period. The Internet public meeting is to help the FAA consider the concerns of those who may be most affected by the proposed rule as they develop a final rule that will promote safety in the commercial air tour industry. Access to the Internet public meeting begins February 23, 2004, at 9 a.m. EST and ends on March 5, 2004, at 4:30 p.m. EST.
  • March 11, 2004 - Rep. Sam Graves' (R-Mo.), chairman of the House's Small Business subcommittee, scheduled hearing on March 30th has been delayed.


  • March 25, 2004 - AOPA and five other associations send a letter to Capitol Hill encouraging members of Congress to write FAA Administrator Marion Blakey with their concern about the "National Air Tour Safety Standards" Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
  • April 5, 2004 - The federal Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy says the FAA's charity/sightseeing notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) should be withdrawn.


  • Apr. 16, 2004 - The FAA agrees to hold public meetings to hear directly from pilots who will be hurt by the proposal.
  • Apr. 16, 2004 - The meetings will be held on May 11, 2004, at the Holiday Inn on the Hill, 415 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001 and on May 21, 2004, at the Clark County Government Center, Commission Chambers, 500 South Grand Central Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada 89155.
  • Apr. 16 - FAA extends comment period until June 18, 2004.
  • Apr. 19 - AOPA files formal comments saying that by "combining sightseeing, air tours, and charity flights, the FAA has made the proposal impractical, if not impossible, to implement."


  • May 11, 2004 - AOPA told the FAA at the first of two public meetings that its proposed charity/sightseeing rule - what they call the National Air Tour Standards proposal - is bad policy, is not justified by safety data, and should be withdrawn.


  • June 21, 2004 - AOPA presented additional evidence to show that the FAA's proposed charity/sightseeing rule would harm charities and small businesses and is not justified by safety data. The association filed supplemental comments on the proposal.


  • September 21, 2006 - AOPA met with officials from the President's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to present additional data to show that the FAA's proposal to raise the minimum number of hours required for private pilots conducting charity fundraising sightseeing flights from 200 to 500 is not justified.

Related documents:

Updated Thursday, January 11, 2007 2:36:12 PM