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Dear SSA Member,

     As you may already know, on June 16, 2015 the FAA issued a document called an “Advance Notice of Proposed Rule Making,” or ANPRM, that solicits public comment on, among other things, (1) whether the current “glider exemption” for transponder use should be revoked or amended and (2) whether gliders should be required to comply with the rules for use of ADS-B devices when those rules take effect for most other general aviation aircraft in 2020.  A web link to the FAA proposal can be found immediately below.  Comments on the ANPRM are due to the FAA not later than August 17, 2015. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/06/16/2015-14818/transponder-requirement-for-gliders.

     The ANPRM candidly states that it is in response to questions raised in some quarters about the “glider transponder exemption” following the so-called “Minden midair” between a glider and a small commercial jet in 2006.  No specific changes to the regulation are being proposed at this time.  To the FAA’s credit, before formulating a specific change in either the Federal regulations or airspace rules the agency is seeking input from the public.  In particular, the FAA is asking for information about the economic costs to the glider community of complying with any revised rules.

     I can assure you that The Soaring Society of America plans to submit a formal and detailed response to this ANPRM.  Primary responsibility for drafting the response is in the hands of our key volunteers on the Government Liaison Committee and is led by Steve Northcraft.  Other SSA volunteers, including Rich Carlson, Chairman of the Soaring Safety Foundation, our safety arm, are also assisting in preparing our written response.  Our response will be coordinated with other aviation organizations, such as EAA and with AOPA, who know that if the transponder exemption for gliders is abrogated powered aircraft without electrical systems that are also currently exempt from transponder requirements are likely to be next.

     At present, we expect our response to be along the following lines, which we believe reflects the view of the majority of SSA members.  We intend to urge that the current glider exemption from use of transponders not be removed from the regulations and that the use of ADS-B out devices not be required in gliders.  Instead, we will urge the FAA to proactively assist in the development and approval of less expensive anti-collision avoidance devices for gliders and light aircraft, such as FLARM.  We will encourage the FAA to continue to work with local glider clubs on developing local airspace management rules that minimize the risk of collisions, as has been the case for over thirty years.  We will suggest that the voluntary use of both FLARM and transponders in congested airspace by many members of the glider community has been an adequate and much more cost effective approach to avoiding midair collisions than indiscriminately mandating transponder use nationwide.  We will state strongly that the expected costs of complying with the suggested rules would have a devastating effect on soaring in certain parts of the country, particularly the western United States, with the costs far outweighing the benefits of compliance.

     While SSA’s response will likely focus on the broad outlines of the above arguments, there are many aspects of the questions proposed by the FAA in the ANPRM that are technical in nature.  For example, the FAA asks for information about the cost of installing and operating transponders in gliders.  Many of you may have personal experience in this area and we encourage you to submit your experiences directly to the FAA (after reading the ANPRM first, of course, so you can answer the questions actually being asked by the FAA.)  Be sure to include installation and maintenance costs in your submitted cost data.

     For those of you currently using transponders on a voluntary basis, your personal experience with the power drain caused by use of a transponder and the limited battery life you experience when using one would be valuable information as, if current battery technology does not permit you to use your transponder for the entire length of your flight, transponders may not be the “magic bullet” the FAA may think them to be.  (Note: be aware that FAA rules require you to have your transponder on at all times if you have one installed in your glider.  You are not allowed to switch in on for only certain portions of the flight.)

     The FAA also asks in their ANPRM whether the use of a Traffic Awareness Beacon System developed under TSO C199 would be a satisfactory alternative to mandating transponder use, a question that requires a certain amount of technical knowledge to answer.  SSA encourages those of you who have a much better understanding of the intricacies/subtleties of TABS to submit a formal response addressing those issues; that’s exactly what the FAA is looking for, expert opinions on why these devices will or won’t work.  The SSA will be addressing why it might not make much sense to require their use in gliders even if they do work.

     In lieu of submitting comments to the FAA yourself, those of you who wish your views to be taken into account by SSA in formulating its response to the ANPRM may submit your thoughts in writing to the following email address, FAAResponses@yahoo.com. SSA Director Phil Umphres has volunteered to help read the many responses we expect may be submitted and help distill your suggestions and comments before passing them on to the primary drafters of SSA’s response.  We hope you understand the need for this; our primary drafters simply don’t have time to read through hundreds of individual emails and still draft the powerful response we hope to submit to the FAA so we are spreading out the work involved in preparing our response among several of our key volunteers.

     SSA is aware that there are many views about the use of anti-collision technology within the glider community.  If you have a view contrary to the position of SSA expressed above, you are welcome to present it yourself to the FAA as well as to SSA.  Similarly, if you have a position in line with SSA’s expected response you are encouraged to submit it to the FAA, particularly if you can give the FAA specific facts and technical information that will help the agency decide if a change in the regulations regarding transponder and/or ADS-B devices is called for.  Should you submit a response, we suggest that it be short, make a limited number of points, and that you provide the FAA with hard cost and/or technical data so that the FAA can use your “hard data” to determine if the contemplated rule changes make both economic and technical sense.  Vague expressions of displeasure at any suggested rule change, particularly when not supported with hard facts, are not likely to be either helpful or persuasive to the FAA!

     As a 501(c)(3) organization, SSA is prohibited by IRS rules from actively encouraging “lobbying” of Congress on behalf of or against any proposed legislation (note that there is a difference between “legislation” and “agency rule making.”)  However, we can suggest that if you have a strong view (either way) about the proposed regulatory change you might also consider writing to your US Senator or Congressperson in addition to making your views known to the FAA.

     SSA’s formal response will be published on the SSA website homepage as soon as it is submitted to the FAA.  Look for it there sometime around August 17.


Very truly yours,

Richard M. Maleady, Chairman

The Soaring Society of America, Inc.

Posted: 7/10/2015 By: General News

General News 

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