Monday, January 9, 2017

Operating Limitations Overly Limiting

One of the things that most builders forget quickly after the exhilarating experience of turning a heap of metal into an airplane - also known as "receiving an Airworthiness Certificate - is that the whole world of experimental flying our kit planes is built upon something called Operating Limitations.
Without the OpLims, there is no experimental flying.

You will receive your Operating Limitations on the day you get your Special Airworthiness Certificate, better known as Pink Slip, and it explains in detail what you can do with the airplane in the initial trial phase, aka Phase I and what you can do once Phase I has been completed - which is referred to as Phase II.

You airplane will likely spent most of its flying life in Phase II, so those limitations are the most important ones for any owner of an experimental airplane.
When I received mine, I studied them and I found one odd set of limitations regarding Phase II and doing anything but flying in VFR conditions during the day.
I have to admit that because of the excitement of accomplishing a successful airworthiness inspection as well as the fact that I was going to fly the plane as a Sport Pilot this tiny weirdness did not bother me too much.
What it was you ask?

Well, here are the two limitations quoted from the OpLims:

10) This aircraft is to be operated under VFR day only

11) After completion of phase I flight testing, unless appropriately equipped for night and/or instrument flight in accordance with 14 CFR part 91.205, this aircraft is to be operated VFR day only.

The way the limitations were applied to Phase I and II respectively was by adding the numbers of the limitations that applied to a paragraph titled Phase I and II respectively.

Mine looked like this:

Phase I Limitations: 1, 2, 3, 4, ..... , 10, 12, ......

Phase II Limitations: 1, 2, 3, 4, ..... , 10, 11, 12, ......


Of course, you wouldn't want to fly your plane during the trial phase in adverse meteorological conditions like IMC or at night. So having 10) in phase I is perfectly fine. As 11) wouldn't apply, it is not listed under Phase I.
However, Phase II has apparently 2 limitations that deal with flying at night.
10) prohibits it altogether, and 11) would allow it if the plane was properly equipped (mine is).
10) is clearly more restrictive and I would think the FAA would use the more restrictive one as we are dealing with LIMITATIONS which are restrictive by nature.

Why do I even care? Didn't I say I was flying as a Sport Pilot anyway and Sport Pilots are prohibited from anything other than flying VFR day.

Yes, that was the case. However, I have started to work on my Private Pilot License and I wanted to use my RV-12 for all the required lessons I have to take with a CFI. That would include 3 hours of flying VFR Night and my OpLims clearly prohibit that.

I searched VAF and found that at least one other builder in Arizona was hit with the same mistaken limitation and that his DAR had told him that the FAA would not issue new OpLims but that this is clearly a mistake and only 11) would apply.
Hm, sounds like one would have to trust the federal government. That's quite a stretch, isn't it. And on top of that your CFI would have to be satisfied with this "explanation" too. Pretty unlikely as their job depends on it.

I contacted my DAR who had made my RV-12 an airplane about 3 years ago and explained the situation. He agreed that this set of limitations made no sense and contacted his person at the FAA who also agreed(!). What were the chances? Honestly!
My DAR was given authorization to issue amended  OpLims in accordance with the latest updated regulations and I should have them in my hands before the weekend. The new limitations are fully spelled out, much more narrative than the old ones and more importantly the issue of no night flying in Phase II has been eliminated.

What is the morale of this little story? Check your OpLims when you get them and get them straightened out if you find anything that strikes you as odd. It's likely easier when they just got issued and the copies haven't made it to the FAA yet.