The Legal Requirements for Amateur-Built Aircraft

Experimental, or amateur-built, or homebuilt aircraft have become, in many cases, extraordinarily sophisticated machines; some rival or exceed the comfort, speed, range, and performance specifications of many factory-built airplanes. Consider the world’s best-selling general aviation airplane, the Cirrus SR-22: it got its start in the 1980s as the VK-30, a kit plane marketed to the then-new and growing kit plane market. Today, the ancestor of that composite kit plane is a factory-built, high performance beauty that starts at $520,000. One big reason that amateur built planes have become so popular (the fellow at the Experimental Aircraft Association told me 35,000-40,000 homebuilts are registered and presumably flying today) is because one can get a terrific plane for a fraction of the cost of a new one. After all, the labor is free(?) and the cost of development, testing, and liability has been sharply reduced. Given that folks routinely have access to tools and equipment and knowledge that was not so readily available a generation ago, one can reasonably expect to build a plane at home, in a year or less.

The rules and regulations regarding rights and responsibilities (couldn’t help it) that a home builder must be familiar with are outlined in the FAA Advisory Circular AC 20-27G. The Advisory Circular does not have the weight of law, but Title 14, Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 21, Certification Procedures for Products and Parts, § 21.191(g) Experimental certificates does. The meat of the matter is that a builder(s) must complete at least 51% of the aircraft, for their own education or recreation. Before a builder schedules an inspection, he or she must register the plane, because the completed plane will need the N-number clearly marked typically in 12” letters and numbers, two-thirds as wide as they are high, spaced no less than one fourth the character width . . . and so on. For this, a builder will need to provide proof of ownership and an affidavit certifying that the aircraft was built from parts or a kit. File form 8050-1 to register. When that’s done, and the plane is all but perfect, the builder can schedule an inspection. The FAA has airworthiness inspectors who are often booked a ways out, and there are designated airworthiness representatives who are deemed by the FAA to be qualified to issue airworthiness certificates. In my case, four gentlemen went over my building logs, particularly for the engine, before they came to the site and poked over 164SH for four hours. After that, I was issued an airworthiness certificate and a repairman’s certificate. The repairman’s certificate allowed me to maintain the plane, which represents a considerable cost savings in the long run.

If you or someone you know is considering building or purchasing a plane, feel free to sit down with me over a cup of coffee, and I’ll help you with the many factors to consider.

Stan Tupper is a private pilot with a seaplane rating. He built N164SH for a private party.

Stanley Tupper