Six leading aviation groups have joined forces to question the basis for the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) new notice proposing sweeping revisions to requirements for on demand air carriers operating Department of Transportation (DOT)-authorised public charter operations, which provide vital air service to small communities.
Submitted yesterday for publication in the Federal Register, the FAA Notice of Intent (NOI) suggests potential revisions to the regulatory definitions of 'on-demand operation', 'supplemental operation' and 'scheduled operation' under 14 CFR Part 110, which governs Part 135 public charter carriers conducting Part 380 flights.
The FAA regulations govern the operations of air carriers, while DOT Part 380 regulations address economic authority for those offering public charters. Current regulations allow a Part 380 operator to work with any air carrier, including on demand carriers operating under Part 135.
In putting forward the notice, FAA officials presented a data set pointing to the growth in flights conducted under Part 380 over the past decade as the basis for the agency's proposed regulatory review. However, the operational increase has come with no major incidents or accidents under the current regulatory framework, which makes the motive for the FAA's action unclear.
The concern was among several raised by the NBAA, Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX)/International Flight Services Association (IFSA), GAMA, HAI, National Air Carriers Association (NACA) and NATA over the FAA notice.
“For more than 45 years, Part 380 public charter regulations have allowed for a broad diversity of safe and secure air service options for US consumers,” says NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen. “We remain concerned about any action that may disrupt or even deprive air service to smaller communities, especially if action were taken without evidence, data or stakeholder engagement on the adequacy of the existing regulatory framework and the desirability of changes to that framework.”
“This review must be a data-driven look at the safety record of the current system and a precise delineation of any perceived problems," says GAMA president Pete Bunce. "If compelling issues are identified that need to be addressed, any policy changes must be designed in a practical and targeted fashion to minimise any negative implications for small and rural communities, transportation efficiency and innovation, and progress on aviation sustainability. This is an issue with much at stake and needs to be based upon safety data and serious regulatory analysis.”
“Part 380 public charter regulations have been in operation for more than four decades. Merely witnessing an uptick in Part 380 operations over the past decade is insufficient grounds for a sweeping overhaul of regulations, particularly when such changes carry far-reaching implications for the entire general aviation community,” says HAI president and CEO James Viola. “The absence of safety concerns raised by industry experts during this period suggests that the existing Part 380 regulations are robust and effective. In contemplating any regulatory modifications, it is paramount to prioritise safety, efficiency, innovation and sustainability as guiding principles throughout the decision-making process.”
“Regulatory revisions could have ripple effects throughout the entire Part 135 and general aviation ecosystem,” says NATA president and CEO Curt Castagna. “It is imperative that any changes are driven not by the economic interest of competitors, but rather by an identified safety need. We look forward to providing comments that support preserving flexibility to meet the diverse needs of the travelling public, while enabling innovative business solutions and healthy economic competition.”
APEX/IFSA CEO Dr Joe Leader spoke on behalf of the organisations that count nearly every major commercial airline in the world as members: “Reducing air travel choice in the United States goes against the very grain of capitalism that has made the US so successful since airline deregulation. To maximise consumer choice and positive passenger experience, Part 380 public charter operations provide expanded competitive air service to more destinations than ever across the United States. In this instance, the Part 380 public charter regulatory changes proposed could shut down successful passenger air operators nearly a decade into their service for the enhanced democratisation of air travel across the US.”
The FAA's move follows concerns expressed by several associations earlier this year about inaccurate characterisations of Part 135 operators conducting Part 380 public charter flights in response to one carrier's economic application to the agency to launch such an operation.
The groups are committed to a robust and comprehensive discussion about repercussions of any regulatory action in the NOI comment period, which is a more appropriate public forum for such debate than an economic authority application docket or premature legislative action.
While the number of Part 380 operations has increased over the past decade in response to declines in commercial airline service to smaller communities, those flights comprise a very small part of the more than 52 million total operations within the national airspace system in 2022.
The organisations also expressed concern that changes to public charter regulations could negatively impact innovative transportation solutions that could benefit consumers by increasing the availability and efficiency of on demand aviation.