Big bizjets prompt a rethink on Part 121/135 regulations

 - May 6, 2008, 11:47 AM

The FAA will be looking for “very intensive” industry participation in a planned comprehensive review of the rules governing aircraft that operate under several FARs, including Parts 135 and 91.

Kathy Perfetti of the FAA said the new regulatory review was prompted mostly by changes in the industry since Part 135 was originally written in the mid-1960s. “What immediately brought it to the table,” she said, “were some issues involving large airplanes such as the Boeing Business Jet.” Questions came up because of modifications to the zero fuel weight to reduce the payload capacity and the seating configuration of the airplane so that it would fit into the applicability standards of Parts 135 or 91, instead of 121 or 125, she explained.

On August 8, the FAA issued a memo reaffirming its flight-standards policy that passenger-seat configuration and maximum payload capacity–as defined in Parts 119, 121, 125 and 135–determine the applicable operating rule. If the passenger seating configuration or maximum payload capacity is modified, restricted or limited through FAA-approved means, the amended passenger seat configuration and payload capacity can be used to determine the applicable operating rules.

As an example, if a BBJ receives an FAA-approved reduction of the zero fuel weight that results in a maximum payload capacity of 7,500 lb or less and the aircraft has 30 or fewer passenger seats, it would be permitted to operate under Part 135 instead of Part 121.

That same logic would hold true if the payload capacity had been modified to 6,000 lb or less and a passenger seat configuration of 20 seats or fewer. In this instance, the airplane would be permitted certain operations under Part 91 instead of Part 125.

In the August memo, the FAA said it would initiate rulemaking efforts to determine if additional safety and operational requirements should be established for these large airplanes when operated under Parts 91 or 135. And, while modifications to the zero fuel weights of the BBJ and other aircraft may have highlighted the need to review some charter operating rules, that has now been expanded to include other operational parts of the FARs.

Aviation industry organizations whose members could be affected by any new rules reacted with caution. Jacqueline Rosser, manager of flight operations for the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), said, “We would certainly want anything to be very specific.” Going in with a tasking to look at Part 135 and rewrite it would be unrealistic, she contended.

“We’re certainly going to be cautious in approaching it,” said Rosser. “The last thing we would want is for anything to jeopardize our current operations, unless there is a safety justification, unless there is reason why something should change.”

NBAA also expressed concern that any potential problem areas be identified well in advance of any proposed rulemaking to give industry the opportunity to help develop workable recommendations.

Perfetti, who oversaw the Fractional Ownership Aviation Rulemaking Committee (FOARC), described the August memo as the first phase of the decision to reexamine aircraft operating rules. She said the last major rewrite of Part 135 was in 1978, after which the FAA recertificated all of the air-taxi companies.

“Since then there have been about 40 individual changes to the rule,” Perfetti said. “In 1995 we did the commuter rulemaking, where we took the 10 seat or more [scheduled airlines] out of 135 and moved them to Part 121.” The body of Part 135–including the on-demand operations and the remaining commuter operations–and the changes in the industry have really prompted this new rulemaking effort, she explained.

The FAA began to question whether the large aircraft such as the BBJ required additional safety standards, which she described as phase two of the new rulemaking effort. “I think when we did [Part] 135 back in 1978,” she said, “we didn’t really envision airplanes like the Boeing Business Jet being operated under those rules.”

Perfetti said the third phase is a comprehensive review. While the large airplanes may have been the immediate catalyst, the third phase will look at “a number of new issues” such as new aircraft types, which could result in major revisions to some operating regulations.

“When we did the commuter rule in 1995,” she said, “we proposed to upgrade the safety of Part 121 and require that all jets used in scheduled service had to be Part 25.” With aircraft such as the Eclipse 500 and other Part 23 jets being planned, “now we have this Part 23 jet that doesn’t meet the applicability rules. So we want to look at these issues to see if there are some safety considerations.”

Perfetti said that other new aircraft types that could come under the review are the Bell/Agusta BA609 tiltrotor and large airships (Cargo Lifter and Sky Cat) that could be used for cargo or air tours. “That’s down the road,” she conceded, but it’s “one of the intricacies of Part 135–that the rules were written for a different size and type of aircraft.”

She further noted that “what we have today doesn’t meet what we had in 1978. There are more jets and more international operations. Right now there’s question about Part 135 meeting the [International Civil Aviation Organization] standards. That’s going to fall into the purview of our review.” She said the review will also look at possibly eliminating Part 125 entirely. (Part 125 is somewhat akin to Part 135, but with larger aircraft–more than 20 seats and with payloads over 6,000 lb–and not available to the public.)

As of early last month, the FAA was in the process of developing the proposal for and scope of the review for presentation to its division managers. Initially it will include Part 135, Part 125, sections of Part 91, including FAR 91.501 (the provision under which most corporate flight departments operate), and potentially some portions of Parts 119 and 121, Perfetti said.

 “Again, the first phase of it will be to look at a special regulation–an SFAR–for the large airplanes, which will be relatively short term, with the comprehensive review going over a longer period of time,” Perfetti said. “I don’t have a time schedule yet, but it is a high-priority review and we should have a schedule shortly.”

Although the BBJ was the most visible example of the need for a fresh look at the regulations, she acknowledged that a number of large cargo airplanes have STCs to modify the payload capacity and operate under Part 135.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us right now,” Perfetti confessed. “It’s kind of looking at a blank sheet of paper and starting with: If we are going to rewrite this rule, where do we start? What’s the scope? What does it cover? Are applicability standards appropriate? Right now, it’s pretty complex to try to find out what your operating rule would be. You could have the same airplane and it’s operated under myriad rules.”

While she admitted that there are a lot of issues involved in this review, Perfetti said she is “confident that the time is right.”

The FAA will create an aviation rulemaking committee (ARC) to help it study the issues, and she briefed delegates at the NBAA Convention last month. Perfetti added that the ARC probably will be broken up into subparts because of the size and the complexity of the project.

NATA’s Rosser suggested that looking at problem areas on an item-by-item basis or having a group that gets together to identify what areas need work “would be a good place to start.”

Perfetti said the FAA was pleased with the results of FOARC, which helped create Part 91 Subpart K to regulate fractional-ownership operations.

“We will be applying that [FOARC] model to this project as well,” Perfetti said. An ARC differs slightly from an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), and gives the agency “a little more flexibility.” ARC falls under the FAA Administrator’s authority, does not have some of the same reporting requirements that the ARAC does and is not generally open to the public. The FAA determines the membership.