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Fri, Mar 19, 2010

FAA's Gilligan, ACSF's Coyne Testify Before House Aviation Subcommittee

Gilligan: On-Demand Charter Safety Record Is Good

FAA Associate Administrator for Safety Peggy Gilligan and Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF) President James K. Coyne testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation Wednesday at a hearing titled "FAA's Oversight of On-Demand Aircraft Operators." The hearing's focus was on the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General's report issued last July 13, 2009, titled "On-Demand Operators Have Less Stringent Safety Requirements and Oversight Than Large Commercial Carriers." Part 135 operations include such flights as helicopter sightseeing tours, Air Ambulance, Offshore Energy support, some cargo and business jet operations, as well as some smaller scheduled airline flights and other services.

Peggy Gilligan

"We acknowledge that the accident rate for on-demand operations is higher than that for 121 scheduled operations, and our safety professionals are constantly striving to make every air operation the safest as possible," Gilligan said in her prepared remarks. "For this reason, we formed an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to review part 135 regulations, and provide recommendations for improvements. They provided us with over 100 recommendations in such areas as training, cabin safety and equipment, the majority of which we concur with."

But Coyne said the DOT IG's report issued last July failed to present an accurate picture of the Part 135 regulatory environment. "The report cited numerous examples of differences between Part 135 and Part 121 regulations but did not offer adequate explanation for the reason for the variances and failed to explain the wide variety of aircraft included in this classification."

James Coyne

"In an apparent effort to bolster an argument for adding a dispatcher requirement to Part 135, the IG attempts to assume the role of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) by suggesting that if a dispatcher had been present, the 2001 crash of a Gulfstream III aircraft may have been averted," Coyne stated. "The primary cause of that accident, as determined following an extensive NTSB investigation, was operation of the aircraft below approach minimums in violation of the regulations. Pressure to land was listed as one of the six contributing factors."

"The ACSF is quite alarmed that the DOT IG, performing perfunctory review of accidents, believed it was more knowledgeable and qualified than the NTSB to be able to make this assertion," explained Coyne. "Assessing aircraft accidents, determining cause and suggesting procedural or regulatory changes to prevent similar future accidents is a role for which the DOT IG is poorly equipped, and it should be left to the experts at the NTSB."

"The continued efforts of the FAA, NTSB and industry have made improvements to safety that have elevated it to the high level at which it stands today," Coyne said. The FAA's advancement of NextGen, SMS, and continual safety improvements in standardization and the safety recommendations program are essential components in improving Part 135 safety."

Gilligan agreed that the Part 135 safety record is good. "The history of on-demand operations shows that the accident rates have been trending downward. In addition to targeted safety initiatives, technical advances such as Global Positioning System (GPS), Glass Cockpit and Electronic Flight Bag technology have led to much more reliable aircraft and contributed to the improvements in aviation safety, as evidenced by a sharp decrease in controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) and loss of control in flight," she said. "Over the past ten years, the number of on-demand fatal accidents due to CFIT has dropped by more than 60 percent and the number of fatal accidents due to loss of control in flight has dropped by more than half."

"I want to reemphasize that on-demand operators conduct a wide variety of commercial operations, meeting diverse needs throughout the country," Gilligan concluded. "In some instances, it is appropriate to implement oversight practices or safety requirements for all on-demand operators. However, simply grouping on-demand operations together in order to assess risk does not take into account the true nature of on-demand operations and does not allow for an effective safety response to the risks of each type of on-demand operation."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.acsf.aero



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