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Business Air News Bulletin
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NBAA and NATA respond to FAA public charter plans
NBAA queries further regulation of flights critical to communities, while NATA is committed to safeguarding the Part 135 environment from changes that may jeopardise the safety or success of aviation businesses.

The FAA has announced plans to take two actions to address public charter flights, which have rapidly expanded in frequency and complexity in recent years. Some services appear to operate like scheduled airlines but under less rigorous safety regulations, a fact that is not always transparent to the flying public. The FAA will explore new ways to integrate charter flights into the airspace in a manner that provides flexibility and safe options for all flyers.

First, the association intends to initiate a rule-making to amend Part 110 definitions of 'scheduled', 'on demand' and 'supplemental' operations. If finalised, the effect of this proposed rule change would be that public charters will be subject to operating rules based on the same safety parameters as other non-public charter operations.

"Part of the safety mission of the FAA is identifying risk early on, and that's exactly what we're doing on public charters as usage expands. If a company is effectively operating as a scheduled airline, the FAA needs to determine whether those operations should follow the same stringent rules as scheduled airlines," says FAA administrator Mike Whitaker.

The FAA intends to issue the notice of proposed rule-making expeditiously. As part of any proposed rule, FAA would seek comment on an effective date that would allow for industry to adapt to any change in the regulatory environment. FAA's plans follow an initial request for comment on the issue in August 2023, in which the agency received and evaluated approximately 60,000 public comments.

Additionally, because of its dedication to expanding air service to small and rural communities, the FAA will explore opportunities to align aircraft size and certification standards with operational needs for small community and rural air service. Specifically, the FAA will convene a Safety Risk Management Panel (SRMP) to assess the feasibility of a new operating authority for scheduled Part 135 operations in 10-30 seat aircraft. The panel will dig into the data as the FAA works to address the risks that exist today, as well as think about the future of the national airspace system.

Whitaker adds: "At the same time, we want to look at how future innovation might cause us to think differently. Safe air travel options should be available to everyone, not limited to only those living near a major airport. We want to put a safety lens over the options of future innovation as we work to further connect small and rural communities, to open up more options for everyone at the same high level of safety."

The FAA's public charter work is being done in coordination with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While the FAA focuses on the safety of the flying public, TSA focuses on the security of transportation systems. The TSA has been reviewing the security requirements of certain operators under the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program (TFSSP), which includes a proposal for the screening of passengers and their accessible property on public charter flights along with other requirements for all TFSSP operators. In accordance with 49 CFR 1544, TSA provided a 45-day comment period for the impacted operators that ends on 27 June. TSA will adjudicate any comments received from industry and continue to work closely with the impacted operators. TSA will consider all of the feedback prior to issuing the changes in final.

NATA president and CEO Curt Castagna responds: "NATA appreciates that the FAA is engaging in a rule-making process, and we are encouraged that the agency wants to hear from different industry sectors to better understand other changes that enhance access to air transportation. We expect the rule-making process will provide time for the FAA and all interested parties to fully understand the historical record from the DOT and FAA, as well as the safety record of public charter operators to base any changes on accurate data rather than competitive issues. Public charter is a longstanding economic authority granted by the DOT that has existed for over 40 years. Despite the frequent use of the term 'loophole', the record supports that public charter operators were always able to utilise the services of any licensed carrier, including on demand operators. NATA looks forward to learning more about the FAA's Safety Risk Management Panel and how the agency will engage industry in that process.

"Part 135 operators provide valuable, safe and secure services across the nation, offering transportation solutions and driving economic development in countless communities that are not serviced by the commercial airlines. The Part 135 industry also serves as a workforce development pipeline for experienced pilots and skilled aircraft mechanics critical to the continued safety, efficiency and growth of our nation's commercial aviation sector. NATA is committed to safeguarding the Part 135 regulatory environment from regulatory changes, intended or unintended, that would jeopardise the safety or success of aviation businesses."

NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen questions the rationale for a government plan to develop far-reaching new regulations on alleged safety grounds for certain on demand public charter carriers that are often key to aviation service in small communities: "Safety is the top priority for business aviation, and our sector has an impeccable record of leadership in working with government agencies and other stakeholders in the development of regulations that address safety concerns and put operational needs first. The FAA's announcement suggests an intention to sidestep both considerations.

"Specifically, the plan to impose new requirements on these carriers has been introduced without an apparent data-based safety rationale. Additionally, the FAA's approach to developing the requirements has the potential to relegate to the sidelines the citizens in small communities and other important voices most impacted by this process.

"We call upon the FAA to step forward with a data-driven basis that explains the need for this change and detail its intended process for engaging with all voices in a meaningful dialogue about the agency's approach to public charter policy."

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