By Henry M. Holden
On May 15, at a meeting of Aviation Professionals Sharing Information at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey (TEB), Douglas Carr, National Business Aviation Association vice president of safety, security and regulation, addressed several issues, including the FAA’s revised A-008 OpSpec.
The A-008 OpSpec directs operational control for Part 135 operators. Its revision is a direct result of the accident at TEB on Feb. 2, 2005, when a Bombardier Challenger CL-600, operated by AMI Jet Charter, ran off the departure end of runway 6, through an airport perimeter fence, across a six-lane highway (where it struck a vehicle) and into a parking lot before impacting a building. The aircraft was destroyed, but there were no fatalities. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the accident was the pilots’ failure to ensure the airplane was loaded within weight-and-balance limits and that the center of gravity was well forward of the forward takeoff limit.
The NTSB further stated that contributing to the accident was the operator’s conduct of charter flights without proper FAA certification; its failure to ensure that all for-hire flights were conducted in accordance with 14 CFR Part 135 requirements; and the management company’s failure to maintain operational control over flights being conducted under its certificate by the operator. All these, the NTSB concluded, resulted in an environment conducive to the development of systemic patterns of flight crew performance deficiencies.
In Carr’s opinion, the revised A-008 goes too far.
“The original A-008 tells Part 135 operators how they must conduct certain parts of their businesses,” he said. “It was a sentence or two in length and said the operator will manage operational control according to documents it has in the company, its ops manuals, general operations manual or other sources.”
Because of the accident, the FAA issued an emergency order of suspension to AMI Jet Charter.
“AMI appealed the suspension to the NTSB, as was its right, but instead of responding to the appeal, the FAA revoked AMI’s certificate because of concerns with the business relationship that existed between AMI and its aircraft management company,” Carr said. “The suspension, and then revocation a week later, is the worst example of the government’s abuse of power I’ve ever seen. I think the FAA far overstepped its boundaries in enforcing what it believed to be a safety problem in the industry. All the documentation I’ve seen has failed to point to a real safety problem with AMI.”
The A-008 is now almost five pages long.
“It goes into excruciating detail about owner/operator relationships,” Carr said. “Anybody that has any relationship between the certificate holder, the management company, the operator, or the crew must become very familiar with A-008. It’s not just up to the 135 operator anymore. Owners can now face more visits from the FAA if they’re ever put in positions where they have to defend the money that goes back and forth between the operators, who collects the money, who pays the pilots, who insures the operation and who pays for the training. This is all now up for consideration when the FAA comes in to determine who has operational control of aircraft.”
Some compromises have been made.
“We’ve spent the last two and a half years with the FAA trying to figure out what they want,” said Carr. “What we have in A-008 now is significantly less than what they wanted. If it were up to them, 135 operators would own all their airplanes; we know that if that were the case, 135 operators would fade away. The majority of 135 aircraft come from owners who put them on certificates to have them managed, in order to defer some operating costs. We’re still working with the lawyers to try to ensure that future policies are reasonable and don’t set standards for the industry that are very difficult to meet.
Carr worries that the FAA may also look into Part 91 operations.
“I’d say that the FAA is not going down that road, yet,” he said. “Right now, we’re hopeful they’ll stay away from Part 91s, but we never thought that AMI would have its certificate revoked either.”
TSA has been focusing on GA for a number of years now.
“There are a number of things coming out for GA over the next couple of months,” said Carr. “The first thing you’re likely to hear about is a new security program called The Large Aircraft Security Program.
“If you’re a Part 135 operator with a plane over 12,500 pounds, you already have it; it’s called the 12.5 Security Program. If you’re a Part 91 operator with a plane that’s over 12,500 pounds, you’re next. The proposal is likely to come out for comments this summer. We want you to tell the TSA what you think. One element you’re likely to see will be a pilot background check to the same standards as the 135 operator. There’ll be some sort of passenger manifest validation. I can’t go into the specifics on that just yet. Whether you submit the passenger manifest in advance or you submit your passengers’ names against a watch list once a year, something is going to be required for the passengers you carry. Hopefully, it’ll be minimally intrusive, so that flight departments can handle it, and it doesn’t require a lot of interaction with passengers.”
Carr said that operators would probably see some kind of formal program requirement.
“Whether it’s a binder or a few extra pages in your GOM, there’ll be some requirement,” he said. “Looking at all the programs for the 135 and 121 operators, there are common elements. I expect that by the middle of ’09, these will be requirements to continue to operate under Part 91. A TSA designee is going to visit you before the program goes live. There may be other additional requirements that they haven’t shared with me yet.”
New security programs will affect general aviation.
“For international flights, there’s a secure FBO program coming,” said Carr. “The TSA has a pilot program at two airports: Shannon, Ireland (SSN), and Anchorage, Alaska (ANC), which will soon be supplemented with other locations in Europe and Asia. Signature Flight Support is the participating FBO at these locations, for flights into the United States.”
Carr says the secure FBO will seek to identify crew and passengers against identification they provide, such as passports, before airplanes depart for the U.S. He added that the program would apply to all U.S.-bound aircraft, not just aircraft registered in the U.S.
“The FBO will send TSA one of three messages: the check was completed and everything matched; the check was completed and there was a discrepancy somewhere, maybe a misspelled name; or the operator chose not to participate, which is an option,” Carr explained. “At this point, we don’t see any downside to not participating. However, if there’s any kind of anomaly with your flight, the TSA is likely not going to let you enter the U.S. It will ask you to divert somewhere else until that problem can be resolved. About 80 percent of all inbound GA traffic comes from about 12 airports outside the United States. Those are the airports where the TSA is looking to implement this process.”
Some benefits go with the program.
“If TSA gets everything it wants, there could be some benefit for you to go through one of those facilities,” said Carr. “You could clear customs, clear immigration and have TSA do its screening, then fly directly to your location here in the U.S., without having to stop somewhere on the East Coast to do it there.
“One of our concerns is what happens to all the domestic screening capability we have today. What if you’re departing from a place that’s not under this program? Will any of that staff capability be redirected to the portals, and will we be forced to go through one of the portals? TSA’s response is that travelers not going through one of these portals will still have the full domestic capabilities awaiting them, and they’ll still be able to get in via the process we have today.”
TSA is also working on security action items, or best-practices guides, that will be available soon for the general aviation industry.
“The TSA doesn’t want to just provide guidelines; it wants to measure how the industry uses them,” Carr said. “Without feedback, the TSA has no way of knowing to what extent the industry is adopting security procedures. Airports are going to have to undergo vulnerability assessments by August, and the TSA is developing tools to conduct those assessments.”
Tax exemptions for aircraft maintenance are going away.
“In New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine, legislatures have proposals, which if passed, will eliminate current exemptions from the aviation maintenance tax,” said Carr. “These states have budgetary shortfalls, and they’re looking to aviation to close gaps. One of the easiest things to do is eliminate a tax exemption. Massachusetts is almost there. The bill is in its senate, and it may soon pass. In Rhode Island and New York, the state legislatures are also moving toward repealing that exemption. There are rumblings that New Jersey is the next to begin the process. Delaware is looking at licensing fees and increasing fuel taxes. Stay tuned to those local and state issues; they affect you as much as what’s happening in Washington. Your involvement is a huge component of the NBAA’s efforts. We need your eyes and ears to remain effective.”