Aviation Industry Expo 2006: Charter Operational Control

 - September 19, 2006, 2:18 PM

Judging from the size of the audience–about 200 people–many charter operators sent personnel to the NATA show to attend the first FAA operational control briefing session. A number of participants were local FAA inspectors, a sign that the FAA is trying to make sure all parties are on the same page when it comes to understanding the operational control concept.

The day-long operational control meeting included presentations by FAA lawyers and flight standards personnel. James Ballough, director of Flight Standards Service, spent the entire day at the meeting.

The FAA plans to hold a total of 10 meetings with the charter industry, aircraft owners and FAA inspectors to help everyone involved understand the operational control requirements of Part 135, including issues such as wet leases and fictitious business names. These requirements will be codified in a new Operations Specification A008, which the agency expects to publish no later than August after receiving input from participants in the meetings.

The second briefing was held April 18 in Newark, N.J. Dates and times of upcoming operational control meetings will be published as soon as they are available. Employees of NBAA member companies can find more detailed information on the operational control issue, including a draft of Ops Spec A008 and updates on the meetings, at http://web.nbaa.org/member/ops/part135/wetlease and www.nata.aero/about/WetLeaseResource.jsp.

“The FAA position is that operational control is a safety factor,” said Joe Conte, manager of the operations law branch at the FAA office of the chief counsel, explaining why the FAA is going to so much trouble to address this issue. The issue gained prominence after the Darby Aviation/Platinum Jet accident in which a Challenger ran off the runway during a takeoff attempt at Teterboro Airport on February 2 last year.

The operational control issue in this case involved not only Darby Aviation’s lack of control as the Part 135 certificate holder, but also the FAA’s monitoring, which focused on charter operator Darby and not on management company Platinum. Platinum was somehow conducting charters using Darby’s certificate. Conte cited three other cases involving operational control, although not involving precisely the same circumstances, that have not attracted as much attention as the Darby accident. The three cases involve Aero Leasing, American Air Network and Nick Air.

The draft Operation Specification A008 was released in March. Key elements include:

• Pilots must be direct employees or agents of the Part 135 certificate holder.

• Aircraft must be owned or leased by the certificate holder and in the holder’s exclusive possession and custody during all Part 135 flights.

• Certificate holders cannot allow any illegal charters to be conducted in the holder’s name. Holders cannot operate under another name or fictitious name unless authorized by the FAA. The holder is responsible for the safety of flights conducted under its authorizations and cannot “allow the use of a fictitious name to obscure the certificate holder’s responsibility and accountability to exercise operational control over its flight operations.” Conte explained to the attendees that DBAs (doing business as) are a major red flag to the FAA. “One air carrier,” he said, “had franchised its air carrier certificate to 19 or 20 owners as if they were the air carrier.”

During the first morning break, attendees seemed a bit shocked at what the operational control effort means to their businesses. One woman was urgently calling a colleague: “We need to sign an exclusive contract!”

Another attendee told AIN that he thought the FAA was “nitpicking” the charter industry, and one said, “This is going to change the face of our industry.”

“Darby entered into an illegal charter management agreement with Platinum,” said FAA attorney Allan Horowitz, manager, special programs, enforcement division, office of the chief counsel. “Darby had a good thing going, getting $2,000 a month for putting aircraft on its certificate. Darby is a great example; [it] didn’t maintain operational control. It hits home that we’re not just talking concepts here.”