The US Small Business Administration's (SBA) Office of Advocacy says the Federal Aviation Administration's charity/sightseeing notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is filled with incomplete or questionable data and should be withdrawn. It further accuses the agency of not accurately calculating the economic impact of the proposed rule on small businesses.

The move is a significant victory for the opponents of the NPRM, formally dubbed the the National Air Tour Standards, as it strengthens the economic argument against the proposed regulation.

Furthermore, the FAA is bound by law "to give every appropriate consideration to any comments provided by the office", says the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which along with other industry trade bodies has been campaigning since its issue last October for the NPRM to be withdrawn.

The NPRM seeks to shake up the regulations and certificate all Part 91 air tour and sightseeing operations under Part 135 or Part 121 rules. The NPRM also includes a new stricter subpart, called Part 136, which establishes requirements for low-level flight, stand-off distance, visibility limits, cloud clearance and over-water operations. Charity flights remain under Part 91, but the NPRM proposes raising the minimum number of hours required for private pilots conducting charity fundraising flights from 200h to 500h.

The FAA estimates that the proposed rule could affect around 1,670 operators, and lead to the closure of around 700 operations. But these figures are challenged by the SBA Office of Advocacy, which concludes the FAA's estimate is based on a number of assumptions about data gathered from a number of sources - which undermines its quality. The agency, it says, has also failed to provide accurate data on operators' revenues and costs. Advocacy says: "The sightseeing and air tour industries contend that thousands, not hundreds of small operators could go out out business... this estimate may be sound."

Source: Flight International