FAA postpones deadline for seat rule compliance

 - December 17, 2007, 6:35 AM

The FAA has postponed until November 29 the compliance deadline for a controversial flight standards handbook bulletin that addresses aircraft configuration and maintenance programs for aircraft operated under Part 135.

The bulletin reiterates that Part 135 aircraft certified for at least 10 seats must adhere to more stringent maintenance and operational standards required by FAR Part 135.411 (a)(2) than those aircraft with nine or fewer seats, which can use the less demanding 135.411(a)(1). Some operators had been meeting the nine or fewer standard by simply cordoning off seats or placarding them as unusable.

But the new handbook bulletin– issued for the principal maintenance inspector, principal avionics inspector and principal operations inspector–states that any reduction of the passenger seating configuration can be accomplished only through an STC or an amendment to the type certificate.

Both the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and the Aircraft Electronics Association raised concerns about the bulletin, and they successfully lobbied the FAA to delay the compliance date. Before the delay, operators were expected to bring the aircraft into conformity with the bulletin within 30 days. If the operator elected to obtain an STC for seat removal, that process would have begun within the 30-day window.

On October 8, NATA met with several charter operators and the FAA’s Flight Standards Service. The meeting concluded with the FAA agreeing to consider the association’s concerns before making a final decision about the continued implementation of the handbook bulletin.

The FAA had said it issued the bulletin to prevent inconsistencies between FSDOs in determining maintenance requirements for Part 135 aircraft, but some operators argue it is “rulemaking by handbook bulletin.” The agency said it determined that the inconsistencies are from the lack of clarity in current guidance as it pertains to STC or “other approved data” that reduce/restrict the seating capacity for aircraft to nine or fewer passenger seats. The aircraft’s type-certified passenger configuration is the configuration as indicated in the TC or STC.