The NTSB recently made a series of recommendations to improve the safety of Part 135 operations. This article looks at how the new regulations will mean you are even safer in the air.
The Background to Part 135 Operations
Note – if you are familiar with Part 135 operations skip this section and move straight onto the forthcoming changes.
All private air charters are governed by FAA Part 135, a set of regulations that ensure a minimum industry standard. For the occasional or even the frequent flyer, much of Part 135 is overwhelming and written in an inaccessible, technical language. Essentially, it is a certification that private plane operations must follow in order to charter their planes. The requirements relate to the operator, their aircraft, pilots and personnel, and are essential for effective governance of the industry.
Part 135 is officially titled “Operating Requirements: Commuter and On-demand Operations and Rules Governing Persons On Board Such Aircraft.” It is governed by the Federal Aviation Authority and written into law through the Code of Federal Regulations (FAR). Stand outs for on-demand charters include:
- A minimum 1500 flying hours for the pilot in command.
- Certification based on whether the pilot uses Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) or Visual Flight Rules (VFR) for each flight.
- Responsibilities around record keeping, training and procedures.
This article on FAA Part 135 will help you learn more about these rules and what they mean for your air charter.
Is Part 135 Strict Enough?
Essentially, any airline or operator that makes their aircraft available for private charter should be a Part 135 operator. However, small commercial operators can get around the requirements by obtaining a FAA Part 91 certificate. This is simpler and cheaper than getting a Part 135, and has led to instances of commercial operations cutting corners.
Airvel does not believe that Part 91 has the rigorous protocol necessary to keep jet charter passengers safe in the air. The Airvel air charter booking engine only lists Part 135 operators who meet both the minimal legal requirements and our own additional safety checks. We have always thought that there are gaps between minimum standards and the safety level necessary for the growing air charter industry. Hence, out additional data-based checks (see below).
This is now something on the hot list for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The board recently highlighted their top ten issues to tackle for 2019 – 2020. On previous annual lists they had "General Aviation Safety". That has now been replaced by Improving the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations. As the world’s premier booking engine for air charters we welcome this move and the discussions it has created. A safer legal minimum can only improve this growing industry.
How do the NTSB Propose that Part 135 Operations Be Made Safer?
The question provided by NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt is, why should Part 135 operators not be compared to Part 121 operators. For those new to all this, Part 121 applies to regional and major international airlines. The regulations are stricter, as you may expect for commercial flights carrying many hundreds of passengers. Sumwalt makes a valid point. Although air charters are completely different to commercial flights, is there not a non-negotiable starting point consistent across all operations?
This is what the NTSB is recommending to the FAA.
Flight Data Monitoring (FDM)
Part 135 operators are not currently required to have flight data monitoring (FDM).
The NTSB propose that aircraft should install flight data recorders (FDRs). This will be an expensive recommendation to roll out industry wide, and is likely to face resistance from smaller operators. The expense will not add to the aircraft’s resale value, yet there is opportunity for operators to implement FDM by harnessing existing technology in their aircraft. How all this is implemented will be a story to follow.
Safety Management System (SMS)
Some Part 135 operators do not have a safety management system (SMS) nor are they obliged to do so. An SMS is required for conducting operations in Europe so it has been adopted by all transatlantic operators. Such systems are also reported on by third-party auditors like Wyvern and ARGUS, so they are already a standard part of the industry. Implementing this into Part 135 certification means that all must have an SMS, not just larger operators and those that are proactive around safety.
This will be an easier sell for the industry. When the FAA implemented Safety Assurance System (SAS) for Part 135 it resulted in operators collecting unnecessary data. SAS was designed for Part 121 and the data collection tools haven’t been changed to meet Part 135 requirements. A clearer SMS within Part 135 will streamline processes and inspections.
Controlled Flight Into Terrain Avoidance Training (CFIT)
Under Part 135, helicopter operations are required to implement a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) avoidance training program, but not Part 135 fixed-wing operations. This has come to light after accidents involving pilots flying at low altitude under visual flight rules, where terrain awareness and warning systems were inhibited. This includes a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan that went down in Alaska’s remote mountainous terrain. It makes sense that CFIT avoidance training is extending across all Part 135 operations, rather than just for helicopters.
The Role of Technology in Improving Part 135 Operator Safety
As a technology company Airvel plays an important role in improving air charter standards. We use data to tackle challenges. Some air charter brokers and vendors place a premium on personal vetting and checks. But how many checks can a vendor realistically make? How often can they make these checks? To keep manual check on over 4000 aircraft would be time consuming and costly. Those costs would ultimately be passed onto the consumer. And everyone in the industry knows of the perfect pilot who goes back to being a cowboy, as soon as nobody is watching.
Part of being the world’s leading booking engine for air charters involves us processing large volumes of data, and always ensuring data integrity. Put simply, Airvel guarantees that every piece of data remains consistent and reliable from source (FAA, Wyvern, ARGUS) to the end consumer. Everything the consumer can search is based on the latest data and information. Thanks to propriety technology there are no gaps for Part 135 operators or aircraft to fall through. The processes are automated and not reliant on human knowledge or error.
Air Charters That Go Beyond Legal Requirements
Ultimately, operator safety comes from installing a safety culture from the top down. As part of the flight management process Airvel partners with Wyvern and ARGUS to verify critical information concerning all operators and aircraft on the booking system. These checks go beyond legal Part 135 requirements. The charters that can be booked through Airvel have already implemented some of the NTSB recommendations. Here is just a selection of some of the data the Airvel booking engine joins up:
- Adherence to applicable FAA regulations and certifications
- In-depth historical safety analysis
- Pilot background checks, experience and training certifications
- The results of rigorous on-site audits of their fleet
- Liability insurance coverage
- Emergency response planning and training
- Flight department training and certifications
- Maintenance records
Search Part 135 Operations on Airvel
Airvel is the world’s leading booking engine for private air charters. You can search over 4000 aircraft and fly to over 2500 destinations. Thanks to data integrity and automated systems you can fly safer and fly for cheaper.
Search for flights today. Or to discuss Part 135 safety give us a call at (844) 424-7835.