By Earl Weener
Homebuilt aircraft, known in the United States as Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft, or E-AB, have existed as long as powered flight. As the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) explains, “you could say that the Wright brothers were the first homebuilders, since they never relied on a factory to construct their airplanes.” Like today’s homebuilders, they used their own craftsmanship to build a flying machine.
About 33,000 of the 224,000 U.S. general aviation aircraft are E-AB and include a wide variety of aircraft built from prefabricated kits, existing plans, or a builder’s unique design. While the enthusiastic community that builds these aircraft has long been a force for innovation, unfortunately, we are seeing higher accident rates among this group of aircraft than in other general aviation segments.
The NTSB and EAA are collaborating to identify how to improve that record. The NTSB launched a study of accidents involving E-AB aircraft. The study is looking at a range of areas, including builder assistance programs, transition training for E-AB pilot-builders, flight test and certification requirements, and maintenance.
EAA is supporting the study by hosting a web-based survey this summer. Operators, builders, and owners of E-AB aircraft who are interested in participating in the survey should go to www.EAA.org/AB-Survey.
This week, Chairman Deborah Hersman and I are traveling to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the nation’s largest aviation event, which attracts homebuilders from across the country and around the world. This will be a great opportunity to see firsthand the range of homebuilt aircraft and talk directly with builders and pilots. I’m looking forward to it.
We expect to publish the completed safety study by fall 2012.
Earl F. Weener, Ph.D., took the oath of office as a Member of the National Transportation Safety Board on June 30, 2010. Dr. Weener is a licensed pilot and flight instructor who has dedicated his entire career to the field of aviation safety.