The FAA denied Bell Helicopter’s petition for an exemption to the normal category Part 27 weight limit of 7,000 pounds that would allow the Bell 429 light twin to operate at up to 7,500 pounds. Transport Canada and a dozen other countries granted such an exemption earlier this year.
The FAA’s move is seen as a major setback for Bell’s ability to market the 429 as an IFR EMS aircraft in the U.S. With a full medical interior, the Bell 429 has an average empty weight of 5,100 pounds, restricting its IFR range with patient, pilot and two EMS crew aboard.
Bell’s increased gross weight package requires operators to install a $115,000 kit that includes CVR/FDR, radar altimeter, HTaws and strobe lights. A Bell spokeswoman told AIN that the company plans to appeal the FAA ruling. “We have requested a meeting with the FAA to discuss its decision,” she said.
According to the FAA, granting the exemption would undermine the more stringent Part 29 transport category requirements in place for helicopters with maximum gross weights (mgw) exceeding 7,000 pounds, give Bell an unfair market advantage and upset FAA-EASA “harmonization.” However, the FAA held open the possibility that Part 27 mgw requirements could be reassessed in the future.