FAA Focus on Operational Control Unsettles Industry
The U.S. FAA is cracking down on how aircraft operators control, fly and market their flights, and its moves have unnerved some in the aviation industry-particularly those involved in helicopter emergency medical services.
The agency’s moves could force a revamping of arrangements in which operators acquire, fly and maintain aircraft under contract to medical providers and supply pilots for them. It also could force helicopter EMS operators not directly affiliated with a hospital to beef up their aviation dispatch and flight-following practices.
Top agency officials said they are not looking to impose the kind of dispatch requirements contained in Federal Aviation Regulations Part 121, under which the pilot in command and a dispatcher on the ground have shared responsibility for the safe conduct of a flight. But they do want greater control over flight operations commensurate with the degree of complexity of a certificate holder’s operations.
The crackdown is not limited to EMS operators; it applies to all Part 135 certificate holders.
The agency’s actions follow a series of accidents and investigations that unmasked common practices in which non-certificate holders marketed and booked flights using an air operator certificate holder’s aircraft and crews, sometimes on a routine basis. Most notable among the crashes were two involving business jets. One ran off a runway at Teterboro, N.J. in February 2005, injuring 20 people. The other crashed in Montrose, Colo. in November 2004, killing the 14-year-old son of the head of the NBC television network’s sports division.
The discovery of those practices also unnerved top regulators and lawyers at the FAA, who were confronted with a situation in which key provisions of the FARs had fallen into disuse over time-at times with the knowledge of the agency’s own inspectors.
As a result, top agency officials have been conducting “road shows” to clarify for both operators and FAA inspectors what the regulations require. Agency officials briefed leaders of the Helicopter Assn. International in late August and attendees at the Air Medical Transport Conference in Phoenix in late September.
At the heart of the matter is the issue of operational control of aircraft operated under FAR Part 135. The FAA planned to issue by the end of October an amendment to paragraph A008 of a certificate holder’s operations specifications that is intended to clarify the operational control requirements of the FARs. FAA inspectors would then inform certificate holders of the clarified requirements. The certificate holders would have to revise their op specs to meet those requirements.
“A very important point is that we have made no regulatory changes,” a top FAA official involved in the process said. “These are all requirements already in the FARs.”
In a summary presented at AMTC in Phoenix, FAA officials said the amended op specs will specify that operational control is the responsibility of the certificate holder, that that responsibility cannot be transferred by any business agreement, and that no agreement between a certificate holder and other parties can supercede the certificate holder’s operational control responsibilities.
FAA officials have said repeatedly that they are looking for more than manual changes through this effort.
“What we are looking for is a cultural change,” said Hooper Harris, head of the commuter, on-demand and training branch of the FAA’s Air Transportation Div. Certificate holders will have to establish and maintain absolute operational control of their aircraft, with its customers making requests for air transportation. “To meet the regulations, both the words and the actions have to be right.”
CIVIL: MD Helicopters Shifts Gears to Speed Fuselages From Mexico
MD Helicopters has revised its plan for a Mexico production site to get fuselages from the facility faster.
The Mesa, Ariz. manufacturer had planned to gain FAA certification of the site near Monterrey to produce its single-engine MD500- and MD600-series helicopters, with plans to start production by year’s end. But the FAA certification process was too protracted to meet MD’s production plans.
The company will now build single-engine fuselages in Monterrey and ship them to Mesa for final assembly and completion. The first is expected to reach Mesa before the end of the year.
In other production-related news, MD reported in September that it has reduced the number of MD aircraft-on-ground (AOG) by 90 percent since the company’s July 2005 acquisition by Patriarch Partners, LLC, the $5-billion private investment firm that holds a controlling interest in MD. Patriarch’s chief, Lynn Tilton, is now MD’s chairman. MD also said it is now able to provide both routine and higher priority parts on the same day the order is received in over 80 percent of the requests. The company said it has also been able to fill 90 percent of customer AOG orders in less than 72 hr. The news confirms the company’s commitment “to rebuild the high level of customer service and operator feedback critical to supporting the large MD Helicopter operating fleet,” said Jeffrey L. Snyder, general manager for customer support.
MILITARY: U.K. Weighs Options for Closing Vertical-Lift Gap
The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence is weighing several options to close a “priority” shortfall in vertical-lift support for its troops operating in southern Afghanistan under NATO command. Options include leasing aircraft from Eurocopter, extending the use of its Westland Pumas and Sea Kings, borrowing EH101s from Denmark and Portugal and contracting with a British company for Soviet-era Mi-17s.
The outgoing commander of U.K. forces in southern Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Butler, has called for extra helicopters “as a priority” to boost the troops’ ability to combat Taliban insurgents. “If we had more helicopters,” Butler has been quoted as saying, “we could generate a higher tempo, not just of offensive operations,” but to press on with reconstruction and development efforts.
The head of the UK Joint Helicopter Command, Maj. Gen. Gary Coward, has said a 5-10-year lease of helicopters could close the vertical-lift gap and allow the ministry to complete an assessment of its long-term vertical-lift needs.
In a related development, the head of Boeing’s Chinook program, Jack Dougherty, said the manufacturer and British officials are close to resolving a dispute over avionics software certification that has kept eight Royal Air Force Chinook HC3s grounded for seven years. Discussions on resolving the dispute, likely with installation of Thales TopDeck cockpits, picked up under pressure from the highest levels of the U.K. government..
MILITARY: Japan Looks to Buy 24 Military Helos in Fiscal 2007
The Japanese government is proposed to buy 24 military helicopters in Fiscal 2007 as part of a ¥4.8-trillion ($41-billion) defense budget for the year.
Plans call for the acquisition of 21 rotorcraft valued at ¥41.2 billion ($345 million) for Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces.
The army’s requested aircraft include 16 Fuji/Bell UH-1J utility helicopters, two Kawasaki OH-1 scout aircraft, one Fuji/Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack rotorcraft, one Mitsubishi/Sikorsky UH-60JA and one Kawasaki/Boeing CH-47JA.
Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces are seeking an aircraft acquisition budget of ¥148.5 billion ($1.25 billion), but rotorcraft make up a small portion of that service’s plans.
The air force is requesting two Mitsubishi/Sikorsky UH-60J utility helicopters and one Kawasaki/Boeing CH-47J Chinook transport helicopter in 2007.
If approved, the budget could be a boon for Kawasaki, which is operating on a plan to build one Chinook a year.
MILITARY: Armed Recon Helo Slips, But U.S. Army to Grow Program
The U.S. Army and Bell Helicopter have agreed to slip the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program by at least six months, with the milestone of a first unit equipped moving from September 2008 into 2009, according to Frank Wallace, Bell’s deputy ARH program manager.
Challenges with integrating target-acquisition and other sensors with Rockwell Collins’ Common Avionics Architecture System is a primary reason.
The program has achieved a number of successes, flying two system design and development aircraft (shown below) within 13 months of contract award. It also added its own aircraft to the program to help overcome test and development risks. The slip is the latest delay in plans to retire the venerable but war-weary OH-58D Kiowa Warrior.
The program won’t stay delayed if the Army’s vice chief of staff has anything to say about it. Gen. Richard Cody, an Army aviator, said he visited Bell Oct. 8 and “was very clear with Bell leadership. We want first unit equipped in 2008, not 2009.” In their defense, the Bell briefers have said they are working to get the program back on schedule.
Despite the delay, the Army is still working to increase the program from 368 to 480 aircraft or more, with the additional ARHs intended for the National Guard.
MILITARY: Sikorsky Taps PZL to Assemble International Black Hawks
Sikorsky Aircraft has signed a strategic memorandum of understanding with aircraft maker PZL Mielec to negotiate agreements that would establish the Polish company as the assembly center for International Black Hawk helicopters and key helicopter components.
The pact was announced last month by the Polish Ministry of Treasury Sept. 20 and confirmed by Sikorsky.
PZL Mielec is wholly owned by the Industrial Development Agency (known by the Polish acronym ARP), which is a government holding company under the treasury ministry.
Under the MOU signed at a public ceremony in Warsaw, Sikorsky’s strategic investment in PZL Mielec would provide funding for factory improvements and tooling to support assembly of the International Black Hawks and other helicopter component production. Financial terms of the MOU were not disclosed. Sikorsky and ARP have agreed to work toward finalizing the terms outlined in the MOU before the end of the year. They anticipate initial component deliveries in 2008 and International Black Hawk deliveries in 2010.
CIVIL: Maryland Troopers Seek to Replace Dauphin Fleet
The Maryland State Police has begun studying options for replacing its fleet of 12 Eurocopter AS365s. The agency took delivery of its first AS365N1s in 1990, and nine years later began converting the aircraft to the N3 configuration. The selection of a new aircraft is complicated by the diversity of the missions that the agency flies, which include law enforcement, search and rescue, medevac and interfacility transfer and homeland security. The agency, which also flies fixed-wing aircraft, conducts roughly 9,000 missions a year.
CIVIL: Pilot Faces Charges in Deputy’s Death
A helicopter pilot faces trial on charges that he failed to maintain his helicopter, leading to a crash that killed a Franklin County, N.C. sheriff’s deputy. Ben Barrick is charged with involuntary manslaughter for the 2004 crash that killed Deputy Ted Horton. He was to go on trial Oct. 1, but a judge agreed to lower his $50,000 bond to $25,000 to free money to allow him to hire a defense attorney. The trial is now set for January.
CIVIL: PHI Pilots’ Union Strikes
Have 200 or so PHI pilots scuttled their helicopter careers by walking out on strike? Opinions are divided on the matter.
Offshore and EMS pilots led by the Office and Professional Employees Union International walked off the job Sept. 20 after 2.5 years of talks failed to produce a new labor pact. The union claimed 330 pilots struck. PHI said in an October financial filing that 210 did so, but it noted that was 35 percent of its pilots and the strike was having a “significant” impact on its operations.
PHI sent letters to the strikers telling them they’d been fired. “Because you are engaging in a strike activity,” one letter reportedly sent by the company said, “you are being permanently replaced.” The strike created the embarrassing situation of pilots picketing against PHI outside the annual Air Medical Transport Conference in Phoenix, headquarters of PHI’s EMS operation.
Top officials of other EMS and offshore companies were split on whether they would hire PHI strikers. Two interviewed said no way; one said he would unless an applicant lied about his involvement in the strike.
CIVIL: FAA to Test New EMS Weather Tool
The FAA and U.S. meteorologists plan to soon field a new, experimental, computerized weather tool aimed at helping helicopter Emergency Medical Service (EMS) pilots in deciding whether they should decline missions. The tool is designed to provide ceiling and visibility data in 5-sq.-km. blocks throughout the entire United States, regardless whether an area is covered by a staffed or automatic weather reporting station. The agency is working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research to develop and field the tool, which is an add-on to the Aviation Digital Data Service that provides aviators with text, digital and graphical forecasts, analyses, and observations of weather. It is intended solely as a “no-go” tool. Pilots could use it to decide not to fly, but it could not be used as justification for accepting a mission.
MILITARY: Poland Unveils Medevac Mi-17
The Polish army took the wraps off its first Mil Mi-17AE medevac helicopter during the MSPO international defense expostion.
Poland may deploy the aircraft to Afghanistan to support NATO’s security-assistance operations there.
The aircraft is assigned to the 25th Air Cavalry Brigade in Leznica Wielka. It is the first of two Mi-17s to be modified with rescue equipment, including oxygen systems, air conditioning, new power supply systems and a 660-lb (300-kg) capacity winch.
Poland’s WZL-1 defense manufacturer in Lodz reconfigured the Mi-17’s cabin to accommodate up to seven stretchers and three medical personnel.
The Mi-17AE’s cockpit has been modified to permit use of night-vision goggles. It includes a GPS receiver, improved communications suite, identification friend-or-foe equipment and a searchlight.
If the aircraft is configured for combat search-and-rescue missions, it can be equipped with modular armor and defensive countermeasures, such as radar warning receivers and chaff and flare dispensers. WZL-1 is also modifying an army PZL Mielec W-3W Sokol for medevac duties.
MILITARY: AgustaWestland to Revive Indian Sea Kings
AgustaWestland has won a contract from the Indian Navy to return to service seven Sea King Mk 42B helicopters. Work on the contract was to start in late September, with AgustaWestland providing a specialist team to work with personnel from the Indian aerospace industry to launch the recovery program.
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. is to repair and overhaul rotable items, including the transmission and rotor heads. In March 2004, AgustaWestland signed a contract with HAL to enable it to perform indigenous Sea King repair and overhaul work in support of the Indian Navy Sea King fleet.
The Indian Navy has received a substantial number of AgustaWestland Sea King helicopters, including advanced Sea King Mk.42B and Mk.42C variants which were delivered in the late 1980s.
MILITARY: High-Performance EH101 Enters Flight Test Program
A high-performance variant of the AgustaWestland EH101 fitted with new-technology British Experimental Rotor Program (BERP) 4 main-rotor blades, more powerful General Electric CT7-8E engines, and a new integrated cockpit display system took flight for the first on Sept. 26 at AgustaWestland’s Yeovil, England facility. Following an initial flight in the morning, the aircraft performed a second flight, operating at speeds up to 135 kt and performing a range of maneuvers. All results were as predicted, the company reported.
The BERP 4 Technology Demonstration Program, which is jointly funded by the U.K. Ministry of Defence and AgustaWestland, was launched with seven key objectives: reduced first cost, reduced life cycle costs, reduced rotor vibration at high and low speeds, improved hover and forward flight performance, improved damage tolerance, increased erosion resistance and reduced signatures. The program is delivering the technology for the next generation of advanced composite rotor blades, which will deliver significant improvements in whole life costs and operational capability of future helicopters including variants of the EH101.
The more powerful General Electric engines, rated at 2,527 shp (1884 kW) each for takeoff, provide 12 percent more power than previous CT7-family engines, increasing the EH101’s payload by at least 2,000 lb while operating on hot days at high altitudes. Following an extensive flight test program utilizing a US101 test aircraft, development flying for the CT7-8E engines is nearing completion.
MILITARY: AgustaWestland Argues LUH Award Wasn’t “Best Value”
Two losing bidders in the U.S. Army’s award of the Light Utility Helicopter contract differ on why the decision was flawed, but their protests have been combined into a single case by the U.S. General Accountability Office.
The GAO heard arguments on the protests during a Sept. 20 hearing in Washington. It is expected to rule on the protests by Nov. 8.
AgustaWestland argues in its protest that the Army’s choice of EADS North America’s EC145-based bid was not made on the “best value” basis outlined in the request for proposals but on a “best price” basis.
Had it known that was the basis, AgustaWestland argues, it would have bid a version of its smaller, less expensive A109.
MD Helicopters’ protest argues its MD902 Explorer bid was the lowest-price offering.
CIVIL: HAI Extends “Salute to Excellence” Deadline
HAI has extended the deadline for submitting nominations for its “Salute to Excellence” awards nomination deadline to allow more time for members and non-members to send in their submissions.
Nominations must be submitted with signed acknowledgement forms.
The new nomination deadline is Nov. 22.
HAI presents 13 “Salute to Excellence” awards yearly. They recognize outstanding achievement in the international helicopter community. Winners receive their awards at the annual “Salute to Excellence” awards banquet, to be held on March 2, 2007, during Heli-Expo 2007 in Orlando, Fla.
By acknowledging the exceptional merit of an individual or organization, the “Salute to Excellence” awards are intended to encourage the continued attainment of the highest standards of professionalism in the international helicopter community.
Nomination forms are available to download at HAI’s Web site, www.rotor.com.
Nominations may be submitted through the Web site, or you may download the appropriate nomination form and mail it to HAI, 1635 Prince St., Alexandria, Va. 22314-2818, or fax it to 703-683-4745. Remember to include supporting documents with your nomination. HAI asks that you not send electronic materials, such as videotapes, DVDs, or CD-ROMs.
CIVIL: HAI Pursues “Virtual” Helicopter Museum
The Helicopter Assn. International is working with the American Helicopter Museum to create a “virtual” museum that enthusiasts around the world could visit to learn the history of rotorcraft and their uses. A key part of the effort is dispatching scribes to capture the oral histories of industry pioneers before those opportunities are lost to death or illness. HAI is pursuing the initiative through the Helicopter Foundation International, of which it recently resumed control. The foundation is working on digitizing the West Chester, Pa.-based American Helicopter Museum’s archives to make them available on the Web, where conversations with pioneers also could be accessed.
CIVIL: New Helo Museum Opens in Tennessee
A new helicopter museum has opened in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood amusement park. Helicopter Headquarters is an $8-million attraction designed to “showcase the development of helicopters and to encourage visitors to experience wingless flight.” Portions of the attraction are interactive, including three custom-made flight simulators and a green-screen experience through which visitors can get a DVD souvenir that shows them piloting a helicopter–or diving from one.
CIVIL: Air Methods Commits to 10 AS350s A Year
Air Methods Corp. has signed an agreement with American Eurocopter to purchase 10 AS350B2/B3 “AStar” helicopters annually for an indefinite period. The AStars will join Air Methods’ fleet of about 200 rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft.
“We need additional aircraft because of the forecasted requirements for single-engine platforms in the medical field, and to replace older aircraft that are more costly to operate and maintain” said Archie Gray, Air Methods’ vice president of technical services.
By adding B2s and B3s to its fleet on a continuing basis, Air Methods hopes to achieve a balance between price, performance, and power.
Powered by the 732-shp Turbomeca Arriel 1D1 turbine engine, the AS350B2 can carry up to six people (one pilot and five passengers), cruise at 133 kt, and fly up to 360 nm without using reserve tanks.
The AS350B3 offers the B2’s carrying capacity beefed up with a 847-shp, FADEC-equipped Turbomeca Arriel 2B engine capable of boosting the aircraft’s cruise speed to 140 kt, and provides the AS350B3 the extra power it needs to work in extreme conditions.
CIVIL: China’s AVIC 2 to Invest $380M in Helos
China Aviation Industry Corp. (AVIC 2I) plans to invest more than 3 billion yuan (US$380 million) into the nation’s fledgling civil helicopter industry.
The money is to be spent on research and development and co-operative projects with foreign counterparts during the company’s 11th five-year plan, which runs through 2010.
“In the next five years, we will stick to a market-oriented approach, boosting the helicopter industry in terms of R&D and manufacturing capability, marketing and servicing,” Ni Xianping, deputy chief engineer of AVIC 2, the country’s only state-owned helicopter maker, told China Daily.
“After figuring out our clients’ specific market demands, we will develop new products and redesign existing ones to meet them.”
Specific projects in AVIC 2’s five-year plan include a new, 5.5-6-ton commercial helicopter, which will be entirely self-developed, and several joint programs with international counterparts, said Ni.
CIVIL: Turbomeca to Expand Parts Production in U.S.
Look for Turbomeca to open a new parts-production plant in the Midwest United States soon, to help it meet worldwide demand for engines. The new plant would be roughly the same size as Turbomeca USA’s engine production and repair facility in Grand Prairie, Texas but would focus solely on parts production. The French engine maker, a subsidiary of Safran Group, expects to produce up to 2,000 engines a year and is exhausting the ability of its current production facilities to provide parts.
CIVIL: Houston P.D. Taps Sapphire For Maintenance Program
The Houston Police Dept.’s aviation unit has hired Connecticut-based Sapphire International to develop an all-in-one aircraft management database for the Helicopter Patrol Div. The $88,000 contract calls for the design and installation of FoxFlight, a software package that will manage a variety of operational data on the agency’s aircraft and their usage.
Houston’s current administrative software is an in-house design that uses an MS-DOS format with limited capabilities. After several failures with that system, Houston became interested in finding new computer-based software that could track nearly every conceivable management and usage parameter. Sapphire International, the only company to respond to the invitation to bid, won the contract, and expects to have the software ready for installation by the end of the year. FoxFlight will track and collate every aspect of aircraft usage based on routine post-flight and post-maintenance information entered by unit personnel. That information will then be retrievable by category. Stored data can also be accessed by administrators.-By Ernie Stephens