FAA rules hampering flight schools

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Federal Aviation Administration restrictions that have kept some aviators grounded since last Tuesday's terrorist attacks may be putting a financial pinch on flight instructors.

John Brown, owner of Flying Start Aero in Minden and Emerald Bay Aviation in South Lake Tahoe, said the grounding of "visual flight rules" flights has already cost him and others in his industry thousands of dollars in lost business.

If not lifted soon, small flight schools could spiral out of business because they operate on a small profit margin.

"We've been asking ourselves for days, 'When is this ban on general aviation going to get back on track?" Brown said. "We can't last unless they cut us loose."

On Monday afternoon, the FAA's Reno Flight Services said there is no timeline for lifting of the restrictions. Private pilots who file a flight plan (instrument flight rules) with the FAA have been allowed to fly, but some private airplanes are not equipped with proper instrumentation.

And traditional point-to-point flying does not apply to flight instruction, Brown said.

"We do maneuvers, take hard turns or go into stalls," he said. This weekend, Brown's four airplanes were grounded. He had to cancel at least 15 hours of flight instruction.

Brown, who once lived and worked in Manhattan, said while he sympathizes with the FAA rules, the ensuing loss of revenue for everyone from maintenance personnel to fuel retailers is becoming a big problem, and the link between private airplanes and commercial airliners is not sensible. "I don't understand why they are doing this."

His flight schools charge $80 an hour for in-flight instruction, and offer FAA certification from private pilot, to instrument reading, up to commercial. There are six flight schools at Minden-Tahoe Airport, and his is the only school operating out of South Lake Tahoe. Carson City Airport has no flight schools.

The high overhead for Brown and others in the flight instruction industry comes from the massive amount of insurance required to operate. He said in his business alone, he spends "tens of thousands" a year to keep his instructors and their students flying.

Brown said Reno FBI agents contacted him within a day of the East Coast attacks, asking him to check his records for six names believed to be linked to four hijacked and purposely crashed airplanes.

While Flying Start Aero and Emerald Bay Aviation can certify students for commercial flying, learning to guide jet airliners requires a different level of instruction at larger-scale flight schools.


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