St. Paul, Minn. — I don’t intend for “Product Lines” to become a place where you read government regulatory updates (God forbid!) but I was in a place to hear some recent developments that I believe you’ll find of interest …some of you anyway. That place was Kansas City, where several ASTM groups gathered for rule-writing Committee Week in mid-May 2003. • At first, I shied away from this whole ASTM rule-writing business as it sounds dull and far from flying fun (and it is, believe me). But this is an historic opportunity to affect federal rule making that directly impacts hang gliding and powered ultralights (two activities that draw my focus). ••• OK, let’s say you’re interested as well — and you should be if towing or tandem flying is part of your hang gliding or paragliding. What the heck is ASTM* anyway? • ASTM has created a group, creatively called “F37,” that will help guide industry officials to build the new standards for Light Sport Aircraft. You probably don’t think that could possibly be of interest to you but your mind might be changed to know that F37.20 (the guys writing standards for airplanes; other F37 dot-somethings are working on weight shift and gyroplanes, etc.) are including aerotowing in their standard writing. Thus, this bunch of folks are working on standards that very directly affect aerotowing of hang gliders. The good news: USHGA leaders like Mike Meier, Bill Bryden, and Jayne DePanfilis speak out at ASTM meetings, last January and again in May… and will do so again more times this year. If nothing else, Meier, Bryden, and DePanfilis deserve your thanks for taking time from their other schedules to volunteer for this work. It’s a lot like serving on the USHGA board of directors, except attendees pay 100% of their cost to attend. • In addition to the USHGA contingent, the fixed wing airplane committee (F37.20) is chaired by Tom Peghiny, a longtime and highly dedicated hang gliding enthusiast. Where possible, I try to lend my voice to the pro-hang gliding/paragliding forces. (My business reason to attend ASTM meetings is to assure that parachute rules are included and properly done — as you may know my “day job” is for BRS parachutes.) These pro-HG/PG people can’t prevent all potential damage, but they will probably help make the aerotowing language as acceptable as possible. Certainly they’ll do better than FAA officials. And these industry standards are not FAA rules. They can and will be subject to change. Different than FAA rules, these standards can readily be changed if their provisions are not accomplishing the desired goals. • One cool part of this entire process is that FAA is hoping the Light Sport Aircraft industry-designed standards will set a precedent for other aviation regulations. In some ideal future, all FAA rules may be devised by industry. Gee, sounds like what USHGA/HGMA have been doing all along, doesn’t it? And, it’s worked quite well for us. * ASTM is American Standards and Testing Materials, except that they are changing their name to ASTM International. This large organization has 30,000 members in 110 countries. Worldwide auto fuel standards are a construct within ASTM showing the global impact of this organization — which is why they are going to the “International” name. ••• Talking with Wills Wing’s Mike Meier at the recent ASTM meeting, news also emerged of a possible change to Part 103 — though the agency had first said they would not change the rule governing hang gliding and paragliding (and that was — and still is — very welcome news for all solo flying of HGs and PGs). • However, FAA is determined to eliminate exemptions which would scuttle tandem operations for both HGs and PGs. FAA lawyers remind FAA rule-authoring personnel that exemptions are meant to be short-lived and used sparingly yet we’ve had a tandem exemption for many years. Now FAA is saying that they want to call tandem operations “Part-103 compliant aircraft with two persons hanging from it,” reports Meier. This semantical gymnastics is FAA’s way of saying tandem isn’t a “two-seat” operation — since no actual seats are part of the aircraft (hang glider or paraglider). In so saying, they can avoid forcing all tandem-flown hang gliders to meet Light Sport Aircraft rules… perhaps. This is a work in progress and the outcome is not 100% certain. • Meier also referenced the shut down of aerotowing operations at Lookout Mountain Flight Park — an event that must give nightmares to all the other professional flight parks. He feels that the uproar over this action may actually turn out to be a good thing… one of those make-lemons-into-lemonade situations. He hopes that actions at FAA will help “legalize” this important segment of our sport. • At the end of meeting, Meier, Bryden, and DePanfilis all felt good about what was accomplished at the Committee Week sessions. Certainly ASTM’s solid organization ability is helping to bring together quite disparate groups. FAA’s strong presence at these meetings and the chance for face-to-face interaction with FAA by leaders in and out of USHGA has every promise of bringing positive results. Without their work, I believe both aerotowing and tandem hang gliding or paragliding would have questionable futures. So I want to thank Mike, Bill, Jayne, and Tom Peghiny for their unwavering support of the kind of flying we all love. ••• OK, next month I promise a return to product news. This ASTM stuff was too compelling and too fresh to pass up for this issue of “Product Lines.” ••• So, got news or opinions? Send ‘em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Messages or fax to 651-450-0930. E-mail to News@ByDanJohnson.com or CumulusMan@aol.com. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine