Part 135 operators brace for FAA OpSpec review

 - July 31, 2007, 9:50 AM

Continuing its efforts to crack down on loopholes in its oversight of Part 135 charter operators, the FAA is conducting mandatory special emphasis inspections through the end of the year. The inspections began last month and are in enforcement of Operational Specification A008, which took effect in March. The specification is aimed at eliminating ambiguities in operational control in charter flights.

The measure is largely in response to issues revealed by two high-profile accidents involving Part 135 carriers–the November 2004 takeoff crash of a Bombardier Challenger 601 in Montrose, Colo., that claimed the lives of three people, including the son of NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol, and the February 2005 incident at Teterboro, N.J., which saw a Challenger 600 attempt to take off but instead cross a six-lane highway, strike a car and crash into a warehouse, injuring several people and destroying the aircraft.

In both cases, investigators found that there was confusion with regard to operational control of the aircraft involved.

“We’ve been working on the operational control issue for more than three years, but our efforts became very focused as a result of the accident that occurred in February 2005,” said an FAA spokesman. “In the hours that followed that mishap we found it very difficult to determine what company was flying that aircraft because there was an intertwining of business relationships.”

OpSpec Compliance
Some critics feel the confusion was due in part to the FAA’s Part 135 oversight being limited to review of paperwork without physical examination of equipment or operational practices. OpSpec A008 attempts to remove this ambiguity by placing all control and responsibility for the aircraft operation in the hands of the certificate holder. FAA inspectors will review records and speak with operators to gauge the level of understanding about aircraft use and operational control under Part 135.

According to Mike Nichols, NBAA’s v-p for operations, education and economics, problems can creep in when aircraft are owned by an operator with one certificate and operated by another under a different certificate. “If the operator has all the elements in check for A008 and can thoroughly explain everything, I don’t think it’s going to be a big challenge at all,” he said.

Nichols added that operators who aren’t prepared and “just signed on the line to accept the new A008 OpSpec” but haven’t  “really taken any measures to prepare for it or ensure that everything is set and in place, may have a bit of a challenge as they go through the inspection process.”

Nichols suggests aircraft operators use an online tool Jet Solutions developed with NATA and posted on the NBAA’s Web site before their inspections. IC Check assesses and tracks an operator’s compliance. It will integrate an operator’s existing scheduling, dispatch and maintenance programs and will assess more than 300 regulations from the FAA, the Transportation Security Administration and others. Before issuing a flight release, the program will check aircraft airworthiness, runway minimums, crew qualifications and certificates, TSA No Fly Lists and many other FAR and government regulations that might ground a flight. It is supported by many insurance underwriters and will be available by subscription this summer or fall. (The Jet Solutions compliance checklist is available at web.nbaa.org/public/ part135/wetlease.)

“We’re urging operators to prepare for it, to go through a dry run to make sure they understand everything that they are doing and then also to train their employees to make sure their employees understand everything,” said Nichols.

“It’s one thing for the management to understand what’s supposed to be done, but slight slip- ups by crewmembers can also cause concern with the FAA,” said Nichols. “For example, if a crewmember doesn’t know who has operational control for a particular flight, that might be a huge area of concern.”

The issuance of OpSpecA008 has had some unintended effects. According to FAA officials, some operators have relinquished their Part 135 certificates to fly under Part 91, while some Part 91 owners are obtaining their own Part 135 certificates rather than continuing their practice of having others operate their aircraft, so they don’t later discover that their agreement is illegal.