NTSB: Close Passenger Revenue Loopholes in Part 91

 - March 23, 2021, 1:21 PM
The flight path of the B-17 that crashed in October 2019 in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. (Image: NTSB)

At a hearing this morning, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) proposed recommendations and reiterated its support for previously lodged ones, to address exceptions, exemptions, and perceived safety loopholes and shortcomings in Part 91 passenger-carrying revenue operations. “The FAA must do everything in its power to ensure the safety of every revenue passenger in every revenue passenger-carrying operation, regardless of the operating rules. Acting upon these recommendations will be a giant step forward to that goal,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “This is an opportunity to increase safety for paying passengers on Part 91 commercial operations.”

The Board’s action follows a lengthy analysis of eight fatal, high-profile crashes of sightseeing/air tour, heritage, parachute jump, and aerobatic flights conducted under Part 91 in a diverse set of aircraft, including gliders, warbirds, aerobatic fixed-wing airplanes, helicopters, and hot-air balloons that killed 45 and injured 12. Accidents examined by the NTSB in this context included but were not limited to a March 2018 FlyNYON “doors off” helitour crash in New York, a June 2019 King Air jump plane crash in Hawaii, and an October 2019 Boeing B-17 World War II bomber accident in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.  

Eliott Simpson, NTSB senior accident investigator, said Board staff identified a variety of common safety shortcomings in the Part 91 passenger operations it studied, including “lack of FAA oversight, lack of structured pilot training, deficiencies in pilot skills and decision-making, and inadequate aircraft maintenance.” 

Draft recommendations proposed by the NTSB include developing national safety standards, or equivalent regulations, for revenue passenger-carrying operations that are currently conducted under Part 91 including, but not limited to, sightseeing flights in a hot-air balloon, intentional parachute jump flights, living history flight experiences, and other vintage aircraft flights. The Board also said these standards or equivalent regulations should include at a minimum for each operation type requirements for initial and recurrent training and maintenance and management policies and procedures. Additionally, it said, they should cover identifying shortcomings in FAR 119.1(e) covering revenue passengers operations that include, but are not limited to, extreme aerobatic experience flights and tour flights operating as student instruction, tour flights operating as photography flights, and glider sightseeing flights.

After the shortcomings are identified, the Board recommended that information should be used to add other types of flight operations to the national safety standard or equivalent regulations requested in safety recommendation #1; to revise the flight standards information management system to include guidance for FAA inspectors who oversee operations, conducted under living history flight experience exemptions to identify potential hazards and ensure that operators are appropriately managing the associated risks; to develop and continuously update a database that includes all revenue passenger-carrying operators addressed in safety recommendations #1 and #2 to facilitate oversight of these operations; and to require safety management systems (SMS) for the revenue passenger-carrying operations addressed in safety recommendation #1 and #2 and requiring ongoing oversight of operator SMS once established. 

The NTSB also reiterated its support for three previously issued recommendations: A1928, to require all commercial air tour operators, regardless of their operating rule, to implement SMS; A1930, which would require the FAA flight standards information management system to include guidance for inspectors with regard to identifying hazards for operations conducted under FAR 119.1(e) exceptions; and A1931, to develop and implement national standards under Part 135 for all air tour operations conducted in powered aircraft, bring all of them under one standard, and eliminate exceptions under FAR 135.1.