After 20 years of industry lobbying, single engine IFR operations with turboprop aircraft have become a reality in Europe for the first time. Although the EU Ops regulations still do not allow single engine commercial passenger services, France has broken ranks and issued the continent's first such AOC.
Voldirect SAS of Rennes has been granted the AOC, enabling it to transport commercial passengers using its TBM 850 turboprop in instrument meteorological conditions. The AOC is standard and there is no restriction in Europe.
“In today's difficult context for France's air transport sector – especially business aviation – we must thank the French DGAC civil aviation authority, which understood the value of leveraging economic and fast aircraft such as the TBM 850 and TBM 700, with proven reliability,” says Voldirect ceo Frédéric Caussarieu.
“We also want to praise the support of the manufacturer, which has been responsive to our needs and assisted us in the certification process.”
Caussarieu adds: “Now that we have got this AOC we can expand. The idea is to get out of this AOC more areas from which we are going to operate, and more planes, and more business. We are planning this expansion in other main cities in France, and we also have some contacts for other countries, which are interested in doing the same thing.”
The high reliability of the PT6 engine was undoubtedly a factor in the AOC being issued. The engine type has accumulated more than 350 million flight hours. From the operator's perspective, there were many reasons for wanting the certification: “We wanted to offer our service to different corporations and companies from the ones which we served initially,” says Caussarieu. “We had many more requests from companies that did not have any connection in terms of capital and equity in our plane or in our group. We had to find a way to accept the requests from those other companies.
“I am extremely happy that we've crossed the threshold.”
The AOC has lent increased professionalism and security to Voldirect's operations. It now uses standard operating procedures, with documents numbering 2,000 pages, and it also makes thorough route calculations to include possible alternates. It says it has demonstrated an ETOPS-like level of reliability, but going from one to zero engines as opposed to going from two to one. In total the AOC process has taken over two years, with four people working on it.
Voldirect is also the first commercial operator in France approved to replace its printed aeronautical charts with iPad 3 electronic documentation.
Concludes Caussarieu: “I would not turn back to what it was before, even if I was aware of the length of the road which we had to go through to get the private operation to the commercial and public. It's a long road but it does really help to create a secure operation and it does really create a much more competent organisation.”
EASA has set to work on developing its rules to allow this type of SE-IFR operation. It is engaged in a consultation process and will report back later this year. The evolution of SE-IFR has already been adopted by the United States and Canada. EBAN spoke to Marc Bailey of BBGA about the reaction in Europe and within his organisation to the latest news: “Voldirect would have had to put a robust case through, so I would have no issue with what's being proposed through a proper regulatory process. If you've got statistics to tell you what the engine shut down rate is, and do everything through your risk assessment, the risk moves down into the bottom corner. They have obviously done their homework and made a good proposal with it.
“But all of it requires a review, a safety management system and doing a risk assessment for what you do. So I think it will make people think whether there's a market for it. It really does then stack up with the finance numbers.
“I've certainly not received anything which suggests that the Germans, French, Danish and Swiss are reacting unfavourably. No one is saying this is ridiculous, this is unsafe. I've only ever heard the pragmatic.”
The TBM 850 aircraft type is meanwhile proving itself capable of robust service: Abalone Group, a private operator which took delivery of its TBM 850 only last month, says that the aircraft has already logged 100 flight hours and is increasing efficiency in its operations. “Our teams appreciate having more productive time and reducing stress and fatigue,” says project manager Sacha Moutel.