European agency studies changes to frax regulation

 - November 3, 2006, 4:25 AM

On behalf of the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), two separate task forces are tackling the vexed issue of regulating fractional ownership operations in Europe. One group is focusing on safety and licensing concerns and the other on security. Neither is expected to complete its recommendations until the middle of the year, according to an ECAC spokeswoman.

At the invitation of the ECAC, an industry working group (IWG) composed of bodies including the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA), NBAA and the British Business and General Aviation Association has been advising the task forces on both sets of issues.

The question of whether fractional ownership operations should be conducted under commercial or private rules continues to divide U.S. and European authorities. ECAC’s task force on safety and licensing has been trying to reach an agreement with the FAA after European officials indicated that they were reluctant to accept the Part 91 Subpart K rules that were drawn up to cover U.S. fractional operations.

However, EBAA chief executive Brian Humphries told AIN that progress has recently been made in convincing the majority of the national government representatives at ECAC that fractional ownership does not need to be regulated under full public transport rules (such as JAR-OPS 1–the equivalent of U.S. Part 135 or Part 121). The IWG is recommending that Europe introduce rules that would be close to Part 91K–perhaps to be designated as JAR-OPS 2K or JAR-OPS 5 to sit alongside the existing operating regulations drawn up by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) for public and private operations.

Humphries indicated that continuing reservations over Part 91K are not based on doubts about the safety of fractional operators. “The main concern is over commercial and economic regulation of these operations,” he said. “We must have a level playing field (between fractional and charter operators).”

Under a compromise being prepared by the IWG, Part 91K fractional operators would be allowed to fly within Europe if U.S. authorities relax their restrictions on European charter operators flying into the U.S. Under current rules, the U.S. Department of Transportation requires non-U.S. carriers to secure a Part 129 foreign carriers certificate if they need to make more than six flights to the U.S. each year. There is no such restriction on U.S. charter operators flying into Europe.

According to EBAA, the certificate is difficult and expensive to apply for, which effectively blocks access to the U.S. for European operators. The envisioned compromise would increase the limit to 12 charter flights per year before a Part 129 certificate would be required.

The IWG also wants the U.S. to lift cabotage restrictions on European charter operators landing at a U.S. airport before flying on to another U.S. destination, having dropped off one or more of the passengers. They would also expect the right to collect these passengers on the return flight, before returning to Europe.

Another IWG proposal is that JAR-OPS 1 rules for commercial operators should be amended to  allow aircraft with no more than 19 seats to use up to 80 percent of runways once an airfield runway risk assessment had been completed. This would match the U.S. regime for equivalent operators.

Developing Security Programs

ECAC’s agenda on security is to ensure that its member states implement uniform National Aviation Security Programs for almost all aircraft operating under commercial rules (including many business aircraft in Europe). The programs are supposed to be in accord with the European Commission’s existing EU2320 regulations, but some states, such as the UK, seem determined to implement the requirements more extensively and swiftly than others.

The application of the 2320 rules has raised questions about whether a level playing field applies for European charter operators and U.S. fractional ownership operators, because Part 91K operations would not be subject to the EU requirements. The IWG has considered requiring fractional operators to adhere to U.S. Twelve-Five rules when operating in Europe. However, one important stumbling block is that while EU2320 requires passenger and baggage screening, Twelve-Five does not.

However, on the safety and licensing issues, the IWG has now started work on “Phase 2” detailed proposals, having presented outline concepts at an ECAC task force meeting in late November. The group’s aim is to finalize these proposals in time for the next European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Geneva (May 18 to 20).

ECAC encompasses 41 European states and so its influence extends beyond the 25 member states of the European Union (EU) and the 38 member states of the JAA. Its main purpose is to harmonize aviation regulations throughout Europe, although member states are not legally obligated to adopt its decisions in full. For the time being, national governments and the JAA are regulating aircraft operators. Eventually, the new European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will take over the regulation of aircraft operators.