In recent months, several questions have come up regarding the difference between operations conducted under an air show waiver and operations conducted under a practice waiver. The differences between air show waivers and practice aerobatic boxes are significant, important and potentially problematic for those unfamiliar with those differences. It is possible for air show organizers to obtain both an aerobatic practice area AND an air show waiver which can confuse the issue even further. To avoid unwanted problems, it is well worth your time and effort to develop a complete, accurate understanding of this issue.
It is common for an event organizer to obtain a practice aerobatic waiver so that performers arriving before air show events may practice at their show altitude and develop a mental site picture. The practice aerobatic waiver permits Statement of Aerobatic Competency (SAC) evaluations with a change in level, as well as the ability to have people other than essential personnel in aircraft and within the aerobatic box. The rules and requirements for practice aerobatic boxes may be found in FAA 8900.1, Volume 3, Chapter 5, Section 1. While this practice waiver is enormously beneficial to the performers to get “game situation” practice, it comes with very strict prohibitions. A practice aerobatic box may not be used before an invited assembly of persons. The presence of an invited assembly of persons is determined by the IIC who issued the 7711-1. “An invited assembly of persons” includes anybody that you invite to the show, even if it’s just a small group.
In the event that an invited assembly of persons is present at an aerial demonstration, all participants must comply with the rules and regulations related to air show waivers. Even if you are operating under a practice waiver, if an invited assembly of people is present, you must comply with the conditions of an air show waiver. During an air show waiver, participants are prohibited from conducting a SAC evaluation other than a renewal with no change and from the carrying of non-essential personnel for any reason. More specifically, under no circumstances is it permissible to carry non-essential persons in the aerobatic box of an air show waiver.
In the event that an air show organizer has an air show waiver that begins prior to the arrival of an invited assembly of persons, the carrying of non-essential persons is prohibited due to the presence of an air show waiver. It would be possible to carry non-essential persons in a practice aerobatic box provided the requirements to do so are met in accordance with Volume 3, Chapter 5, Section 1 of FAA Order 8900.1.
It is the responsibility of the pilot in command to know which type of waiver is in place prior to any flight in waivered airspace. When in doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and assume that the action is being conducted in an air show waiver as the interpretation of 8900.1 may vary from one IIC to the next.