Part 135 Rewrite: In the Beginning…

 - January 30, 2007, 10:05 AM

The FAR Part 135 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) delivered a long-awaited briefing on its research and a preview of the coming notice of proposed rulemaking. The committee’s two-year charter comes to a close this month, and the committee met for the last time in late February. Kathy Perfetti, the FAA’s national resource specialist for Part 135 operators, said there is still time for interested parties to contact the committee through NATA and voice opinions that could change the draft that the ARC will deliver to the FAA. She said, “We ended up with three or four three-inch volumes.”

Once it receives the draft from the ARC, the FAA will form internal work teams covering the myriad categories addressed in the draft. The committee recommends teams be assigned to the following issues related to Part 135: applicability, operations, training, airworthiness, equipment and technical issues, rotorcraft, aeromedical and airships.

Perfetti said, “The rewrite is long overdue. Current regulations, written in the 1970s, don’t account for new avionics, for example.” She added, “The ARC has been a wonderful tool. The charter sets the scope. Our objectives covered not only Part 135 and Part 125 but also any other rule that affects those Parts.” The purpose was to enable new aircraft types, sizes and designs and new technology. “The object was to provide standards that reflect the current industry but also look ahead,” she added.
She cautioned that the rule package is conservative, with some rules tightened and others relaxed. “There will be costs to operators. The rule has to go through the OMB for cost-benefit analysis.”

Jacqueline Rosser, NATA senior manager of regulatory affairs, assured members the association would scrutinize the notice of proposed rulemaking when it comes out of the FAA. She said, “There may be things we missed. There may be unintended consequences. There may be overlaps.” She also said the compliance schedule would be staggered to minimize economic impact.

Rosser went on to cite several issues the ARC addressed, including “taking some operations out of Part 125 that don’t belong there. We called it the Travolta example–someone who owns a large aircraft for private use. We proposed eliminating the deviation required to go to Part 91 in cases such as that of John Travolta, who owns a Boeing 707.”

There is an “all-cargo issue” increasing weight limits in some categories to 18,000 pounds from 7,500 pounds; the VLJ Catch-22, in which a Part 23-certified aircraft is not permitted to conduct scheduled service, so a redesign of Part 23 is suggested; various training issues; maintenance recordkeeping updates; clarification of cockpit voice recorder requirements when applied to single-pilot operations; and self-issued ferry permits.

Duty-time Regulations
Then the panelists took a collective deep breath and launched into the hornets’ nest of flight, duty and rest time (FD&R).

Perfetti apologized to the press for keeping all information about the ARC’s deliberations quiet until this session but asserted that the topic is so volatile it would have been impractical to release information on exploratory research that could easily turn out to be a dead end.

Rosser started with an assessment of what’s wrong with the current regulations on flight, duty and rest time for charter operations. She went back as far as a 1995 NPRM, through the 1999 notice on the federal register and into the ARC’s FD&R working group. She said, “When the FAA tried to address the issue for airlines and small Part 135 operators, it became a labor issue.”

Much of the controversy stems from poorly defined language involving pilots’ availability for flying duty. The current Part 135.267 (d) cites the so-called 24-hour lookback issue. Under the current rules, at any time of any day, a pilot should be able to look back over the previous 24 hours and find a 10-hour block of “rest.” The ARC is adamant that “rest” means the pilot is not required to respond to the operator. If a crewmember is expected to be available, that is not a rest period.
Such a rule would require that operators give pilots no less than 10 hours’ notice before any flight, which is not practical for pop-up flights that make up the bread and butter of many charter operators’ income.

The ARC’s solution involves a complex combination of two crew-scheduling formats–the tabular method and the availability method. Each has its advantages for different types of operation and for different circumstances. Operators and pilots can move from one format to the other, provided sufficient notice is available. Though ARC members admit the formats appear highly complex at first sight, they maintain that the system is intuitive and easy to understand. For full details on the proposal, go to the NATA Web site at www.NATA.aero.

Doug Carr, NBAA director of regulatory affairs, began his presentation with a video illustrating “cat herding.” He asserted that bringing the aviation industry in line on FD&R issues made wrangling tabbies look like a picnic.

Over the course of four meetings and hundreds of hours, the working group reviewed existing regulations; ICAO rules; and scientific research from NASA, Dr. Mark Rosekind and the Australian CAA. The group reviewed reports from the FAA chief counsel, factual reports and previous attempts to redefine the FD&R rules. Carr said, “The problems were that there were hundreds of FAA opinions; an inconsistent understanding among operators; and that Part 135 has changed since 1978 [the last time it underwent a regulatory review].”

Carr added that the ARC was an opportunity to “give the industry smarties a chance to create a crewmember rest management program.” The FAA would clearly define the requirements, such as four phases of crewmember status: off; on duty; resting; and available. “That removes any ambiguity,” said Carr.

Carr also pointed out that there are separate proposals for specialty operations such as aeromedical. He also addressed issues involving long-range flights (such as the configuration of a crew-rest area in a relatively small aircraft), mid-duty breaks and others.

Perfetti exhorted NATA members to visit the association Web site for details on the Part 135 ARC and to provide feedback during the public comment period of the NPRM. She said, “I urge you all: comment, comment, comment!”