Washington Report, Sept-Oct 2023
FAA Unveils MOSAIC
On July 19, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) posted its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) with proposed changes to the airworthiness rules for light sport aircraft (LSA). The proposed changes, known as the Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification (MOSAIC) rule, would significantly expand the definition of light sport aircraft to include some types of rotorcraft, “powered-lift” aircraft (e.g., winged, electric VTOL aircraft), and some other types of aircraft, as well as expand the conditions under which these aircraft could be flown.
The 318-page document marks the first proposed regulatory changes to LSA since the FAA created that category of aircraft in 2004; the existing rules preclude rotorcraft (or other vertical flight aircraft) and any power systems other than piston engines.
The existing LSA rules allow sport pilots to fly light sport aircraft with a sport pilot’s certificate and medical self-certification plus a driver’s license (as long as an FAA medical certificate has not been revoked). The sport pilot’s license requires 20-hours minimum flight time, instead of the 40-hour minimum for a private pilot’s license. Unlike certified aircraft manufacturers, LSA manufacturers declare compliance to FAA-accepted industry consensus standards and go through audits from the FAA and approved third parties. Light sport aircraft are not FAA certified.
The MOSAIC rule would replace the existing definition of a light sport aircraft in the FAA’s Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 1 with a new set of rules in a new FAR Part 22. The new LSA as proposed in the NPRM would not have an explicit weight limit, though other factors would facilitate the increase from 1,320 lb (600 kg) to approximately 3,000 lb (1,360 kg). Fixed-wing aircraft would be limited to a 54-kt (100-km/h) stall speed, a top speed of 250 kt (463-km/h) and a maximum of four seats — though a pilot with only an LSA license could only fly one passenger.
Furthermore, under the MOSAIC NPRM, LSA can have “simplified flight controls,” and can now be fixed-wing, rotorcraft or powered-lift category aircraft. But the latter two categories are limited to two-place aircraft. The inclusion of simplified flight controls in the MOSAIC rule opens the door to the emergence of aircraft with full envelope protection and other forms of simplified vehicle operations (SVO). However, pilots who train in an aircraft with simplified flight controls would require an endorsement to transition to traditional aircraft.
The general aviation and eVTOL communities celebrated the FAA’s proposed modernization of the LSA rules as a long-awaited opportunity to reduce the barriers to entry. Electric LSA aircraft like the Pipistrel Velis will finally be eligible to be used for professional pilot training in the US. The FAA formally published its MOSAIC proposal in the Federal Register on July 24, initiating a 90-day comment period. If approved, the rules would likely go into effect next year.
House Advances FAA Reauthorization
On July 20, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed its version of legislation — H.R. 3935, the Securing Growth and Robust Leadership in American Aviation Act — to reauthorize the FAA for five years by a vote of 351- 69. The bipartisan bill, which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee had unanimously approved on June 14, includes multiple provisions to advance the integration of advanced air mobility (AAM) vehicles, as well as those related to helicopter noise and air ambulance operations (see “Washington Report,” Vertiflite, July/Aug 2023).
The Senate Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee introduced its version of a bipartisan FAA reauthorization bill — S. 1939, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2023 — on June 12. However, the Committee was unable to advance the bill to the Senate floor before the summer recess in August and, as of press time, had yet to do so. Stubborn disagreements over proposals to increase the number of flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) and to reduce the number of hours of training required of new commercial airline pilots (the so-called “1,500-hour rule”) have challenged the ability of lawmakers to advance the bill.
Once passed, the Senate and House will need to reconcile the two versions of the legislation before the agency’s operating authority and funding expires on Sept. 30, the end of the 2023 fiscal year.
House, Senate Pass NDAA Drafts
The House of Representatives and Senate passed versions — H.R. 2670 and S. 2226, respectively — of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), legislation that would authorize defense appropriations and set defense policy for fiscal year 2024. The House passed its version on July 14 by a party-line vote, while the Senate version passed with bipartisan support on July 27. The House version contains several changes to funding for the Army’s helicopters that were absent in the Senate version, the most significant of which is an addition of $177.5M for four additional Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The House would also require the Army to submit a report on the funding and requirements of the Black Hawk Block II program.
After returning from the end of the summer recess, the Senate and House will need to reconcile both versions of the legislation, the outcome of which is essential to the functioning of the defense apparatus.