The first indication of activity from the FAI archives was in a 20 December 1978 FAI notice of an upcoming International General Aviation Committee (CIAG) meeting in Geneva, Switzerland included an annex to the agenda titled “The ULTRALIGHT AND F.A.I.” Authored by Ann Welch, it provided background on a new and exciting air sport and expressed the need for FAI to become involved. The rest, as they say, is history.
The introduction of small gas engines attached to hang gliders and lightweight fixed wing designs in the mid-1970s opened up the possibilities of sport and recreational flight to a new generation of enthusiasts. A short takeoff from a small field with sustained flight over the local countryside fulfilled many dreams of bird-like flight. Interest in this those early pioneering efforts quickly turned into an explosive growth of activity, with mass-produced microlights (also called “ultralights”) populating the skies. Public interest, and concern over noise, privacy and safety warranted the need for national advocacy organizations and new sections of National Aero Clubs to educate and advocate for this new segment of aviators.
A few enlightened aviation personalities at the time could see the natural progression of the competitive spirit, from manufacturers vying for customers to adventuresome souls eager to test their new aircraft to the limits and against their peers. Two such people were Ann Welch, president of the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and well established within FAI, and Paul Poberezny of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) who’s Oshkosh airshow was the largest civil aviation event on the planet.
Ann Welch was already a well-known and respected figure in the gliding and hang gliding scene. The first indication in the archives of her intent to formalize microlights under the FAI air sport framework comes from a 2 January 1981 FAI letter to National Aero Club presidents. It details a decision at the 1980 General Conference in Auckland, New Zealand to “…set up a working group under the chairmanship of Mrs. A. Welch in order to study ways of bringing the rapidly growing microlight aircraft movement into the F.A.I.”
In a letter dated 19 Nov 1981 to Robert Buck , FAI Director General Bertrand Larcher referred to a microlight committee meeting attended by Mr. Poberezny in which it was noted that, “…the Americans were rather reluctant to let the F.A.I take the lead.” Mr. Larcher asked Mr. Buck to informally reach out to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding microlight pilot certificates and the definition of a microlight. Thus began the saga of influence and intrigue in microlight regulation and its place in FAI’s pantheon of air sport activities.