Operators have begun using LSAs — particularly "trikes" — to give air tours over the Hawaiian islands. LSAs fly low and slow, just like helicopters, and are much cheaper to run. But they have a terrible safety record. And it's illegal to use LSAs for commercial tours. If it is illegal to use LSAs for commercial tours, how do LSA operators get away with it? As I wrote here, they simply say that they are taking the passenger for an introductory "flight lesson," rather than a tour. The FAA now recognizes that operators are taking advantage of the regulatory loophole. According to one FAA official, "It appears some operators are trying to get around the air tour provision by offering flights under the guise of introductory flying instructions." The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports that the FAA's plan for dealing with the problem is to step up surveillance: the plan will call for more unannounced visits, interviews with pilots and record examinations of aircraft operators. Officials also held a meeting with weight-shift control operators to encourage more voluntary compliance. The FAA says no new regulations are needed, since the existing rules are clear. Yes, the rules are clear. That's the problem. It's clear that it's legal to take a paying passenger for an introductory flight lesson. And so that's exactly what the tour companies operating LSAs will continue to do.
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