Door Opening for Single-engine Commercial IFR in Europe

 - September 1, 2013, 12:35 AM
TBM850 operator Voldirect is one of several operators approved for commercial flights in IMC.

Flying commercially using a single-engine aircraft under instrument flight rules (SECIFR) or at night may be taken for granted in the U.S., but it has not been possible in Europe–until now. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has cracked the door open–first for cargo operators and more recently, in the past few months, for flights carrying fare-paying passengers. It has left the decision to individual countries’ regulators, however, and France and Finland have taken the lead.

Hendell Aviation in Finland billed itself as “the first [SECIFR] operator in Europe” in February this year; then, during the Paris Air Show in June, Daher-Socata announced that a TBM850 operator, Rennes, France-based Voldirect, had been approved for single-engine commercial flights in IMC under the French DGAC’s derogation.

In making the announcement, the French manufacturer said, “It is the result of combined efforts involving the operator, the aircraft manufacturer and the OSAC French civil aviation inspection authority after Voldirect demonstrated a safety level equivalent or superior to [that of] all fields of operations and [deemed] mandatory [for] any airline in Europe.”

A commercial aircraft operator’s goal is to make the service it provides to business customers more competitive by enabling them to travel to any European destination in a single day–without waiting times, airplane changes or wasted time, for a time/cost benefit that cannot be matched by any other type of aircraft. “Voldirect makes the flexibility of business aviation available to companies that otherwise couldn’t afford it,” acccording to Daher-Socata.

Stéphane Mayer, president and CEO of Daher-Socata, noted that an operator such as Voldirect can now sell tickets for on-demand flights on the TBM850, providing quality, competitiveness, flexibility, performance and a small environmental footprint. Nicolas Chabbert, senior v-p of Daher-Socata’s airplane division, expects that the French experience will make the EASA comfortable about adopting rules that allow SECIFR operations.

Restrictions Continue in UK

At the other end of the scale is the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which has long opposed commercial single-engine IFR operations and continues to watch the changes from the sidelines. The CAA told AIN: “Currently the UK CAA does not allow [commercial] single-engine passenger or IFR operations. These operations are not allowed under the regulations set out in EU OPS.” The CAA also pointed out, “The EASA is currently engaged in a consultation on this issue and will report later in the year. We await the outcome of this process.”

Canada and the U.S. already allow commercial IFR flights in single-engine aircraft.

SECIFR Rule Long Under Discussion in Europe

A little over two years ago, European regulators included the proposed SECIFR rule in the 2011-14 EASA rulemaking program, and for proponents of change this was an encouraging development. Ultimately, the European Commission (effectively the EASA’s parent institution) will hand down a formal opinion for processing by the EC, which will then pass it to the European Parliament for consideration.

In the meantime, carriers have been able to conduct SECIFR cargo flights under approval by their national institutions using derogations from European rules, which recently transitioned from the old Joint Aviation Authorities soft-law rules to hard-law EASA rules. Operators in Finland, France, Greece, Norway and Spain have permitted domestic SECIFR flights by air operator certificate holders carrying only cargo under specific circumstances. The Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) failed to establish a consensus, and another opportunity was missed when the EASA said in 2008 that SECIMC/night flying would require separate rulemaking after it had handed down its opinion on the EASA operations implementing rules.

In 2007 the EASA set up an independent assessment “to identify the risks and possible mitigating factors [to ensure] that SECIMC operations do not involve more risks than multi-engine IMC operations.”

Conducted by Qinetiq, that study concluded that accident rates involving fatal SECIMC/night events from all causes should be “more remote than 4 per million flight hours,” a safety outlook slightly better than that for twin-engine aircraft in comparable operations. Qinetiq also concluded that fatal SECIMC/night engine-failure rates should be less than 1.3 per million flight hours and made recommendations on aircraft-certification testing, training and the need for a second pilot.

The report offered a theoretical risk assessment that, depending on “realistic assumptions,” concluded there was a hypothetical possibility that the target engine-failure fatal accident rate could be shown to be achievable. Permitted SECIMC/night operations would need to be covered by “appropriate limitations on cloud ceiling and visibility, [conducted between] suitable airfields and [with consideration for] the duration of risk periods when no landing site is within gliding range.”

Within Europe, certain turboprop singles have been cleared to conduct public-transport operations in day VMC for a number of years. There has been considerable commercial pressure to extend this clearance to allow operations at night and in IMC, as already permitted in the U.S. and some other countries. Before the EASA was established, the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) had conducted an extensive consultation exercise to amend the Joint Airworthiness Requirements Operations (JAR Ops1). This process culminated in notice of proposed amendment NPA Ops 29 Rev 2, circulated in June 2004. The requirements, as given in NPA Ops 29 Rev 2, would have allowed turboprop singles to undertake commercial night and IMC operations in Europe, but with more limitations than those imposed by the FAA and the authorities in other countries.

However, while a majority of national airworthiness authorities within Europe were satisfied with the proposals, a consensus could not be achieved. Consequently, when the EASA became the overarching European airworthiness authority it decided to suspend the rulemaking task and review the work done so far. It called for a full and objective risk assessment of SECIFR operations to be undertaken by an independent expert entity with no conflict of interest toward the introduction of SECIFR operations. In February 2007 the contract was placed with Qinetiq.