FAA: Airline rules to migrate to charter operations

 - June 27, 2011, 6:30 AM

Flight, duty and rest regulations currently being finalized for Part 121 airlines “can very well migrate over to the Part 135” on-demand sector, John Allen, head of the FAA’s flight standards office, warned charter operators at last month’s National Air Transportation Association Air Charter Summit.

“It’s likely that future rulemaking efforts will propose extending Part 121 [regulations] to Part 135,” he told attendees.

Allen pointed out that Congress “clearly established the FAA’s priorities with passage of H.R. 5900, the Airline Safety and Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2010.” The bill focuses on pilot training, professionalism and professional development and came about as the result of the February 2009 crash of a regional turboprop just outside Buffalo, N.Y.

The legislation calls for eight rulemaking actions, as well as 11 studies, task forces or reports to Congress, along with one database. The first of the rulemakings dealt with an overhaul of air carrier crew training, issued as a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM), which is currently out for public comment.

FAA Belt Tightening

Allen emphasized that if proposed reductions to the FAA budget are passed, the agency will be forced to “refocus priorities and resources,” which will include making “more robust use of designees.” He said the fiscal realities will affect the agency’s ability to meet the challenges of the designing, manufacturing, regulating and operating of new aircraft. “There would be a hit on the [entire] aviation industry,” Allen predicted, adding that the proposed cutbacks would reduce agency staffing to about 89 percent of optimum staffing levels.

Painting a rather stark picture, he said there was also the possibility of a furlough of some employees. “You have to realize that not only do I have to have the resources to do the certification of an activity,” he warned, “but I also have to have the resources to do the follow-on safety oversight.”

Allen said he can’t just turn people down because he lacks the manpower. “That would not be a reasonable philosophy to take, because industry has to grow, people want to enter into aviation for business purposes,” he continued. “That is the lifeblood of our enterprise.”

According to Allen, the FAA will also have to rely more on the use of safety management systems (SMS). “As I believe in SMS, the philosophy is to better empower you, to give you not only accountability, but credit for your own managing of your safety programs,” he explained.

Traffic Returns to DCA

In another session at the NATA summit, Douglas Hofsass, deputy assistant administrator for the Transportation Security Administration’s transportation sector network management, said that following the departure of Brian Delauter, the agency is recruiting for that position “carefully.”

Delauter was highly popular among general aviation organizations for his ability to smooth over differences between the TSA policymakers and the GA population. Unfortunately, he resigned in May after less than two years in the post to return to the private sector as head of Nissan’s flight department.

Regardless of Delauter’s departure, Hofsass maintained that the future for general aviation activity at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport “is bright.” There were 71 operations in March versus 31 in March last year. In April this year, there were 56 operations versus 34 last year.

“In May–the final numbers haven’t been tabulated yet–the numbers are going to be significantly better than last May’s,” Hofsass told the group. “So this is good news. For those of you who live in the area, when you go down the [George Washington] Parkway, yes, those are GA airplanes sitting on the ramp.”

Hofsass said that general aviation has been allocated 24 arrival and 24 departure slots at DCA every day, and the TSA’s goal is to fill each of those slots. Improvements to the DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP) in March have markedly improved the GA traffic count.

One of the biggest hurdles was the requirement that changes in passenger manifests or equipment had to be submitted for approval 24 hours in advance. The TSA has modified that to two hours and Hofsass said it is “working well.” Of 17 or 18 requests for change, Hofsass said, 16 or 17 were approved.

Lasp 2.0 Coming Soon

On another topic of great interest to general aviation, Hofsass talked about the Large Aircraft Security Program (Lasp). It was originally proposed on Oct. 30, 2008, which he called “the second day that will live in infamy.” After receiving several thousand mostly negative comments on the plan, the TSA met with select members of the industry to discuss “where should this rule really go? What are the things that are important to industry to allow businesses to continue to give GA the flexibility that it needs, but also to reassure the TSA from a security standpoint?”

Following discussions with several “very, very good working groups, where we are right now is the revised proposal–what we call the supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking, which has been signed off on by [TSA Administrator John Pistole] and is now at the [Department of Homeland Security],” said Hofsass.

After the supplemental NPRM clears the department, it will go to the Office of Management and Budget for review before being posted for public comments. “We’re expecting that it will be out officially for comment later this year,” Hofsass said.

The new version will focus on securing the aircraft, knowing who the passengers are, vetting the pilots and allowing “an appropriate weight that allows the operators to operate and it also allows us some security insurances, particularly based on what weight of an aircraft poses a threat.”

Speaking to the original proposal, which would have included all aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds and which garnered most of the heavy criticism, he revealed the weight threshold is not going down. “It’s obviously going up,” he said, demurring on giving the exact weight. “When you see the weight when it does come out, you’ll think that it’s appropriate and a smart weight,” Hofsass promised.