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NBAA's Bolen Responds to FAA Decision to Close ATC Towers

Contact: Dan Hubbard, (202) 783-9360, [email protected]

Washington, DC, March 22, 2013 – National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen released the following statement in response to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA's) decision to proceed with the closure of 149 contract air traffic control towers and other facilities across the United States, to comply with "sequestration," or mandatory budget curtailments required of federal agencies:

"From the time it was determined that government agencies would be required to adhere to the sequestration order, NBAA has recognized the difficulties of this unique and complex situation. Our desire has been to work with the FAA to limit the impact from sequestration, and keep as many control towers and facilities open as possible.

"To that end, NBAA representatives have had numerous face-to-face meetings with top FAA officials to provide options for meeting the challenges faced by the agency. Our suggestions were codified in my March 12 letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Chief Operating Officer David Grizzle, outlining the Association's position on the proposed closures, which also offered suggestions to help mitigate the impact on operations, in the event that tower closures became a reality.

"While it appears FAA officials took some of our concerns into account – 40 towers originally slated for closure will now remain open – we are frustrated that the FAA has nevertheless chosen to move ahead with the closure of 149 facilities targeted in its original sequester-response plan. At the same time, we recognize it's critically important that we continue to cooperate with agency officials to ensure the closures that will happen are as workable as possible for our Member Companies. We will continue working with the FAA with that objective in view.

"As we have repeatedly said, air traffic control towers play an integral role in ensuring America's aviation system remains the safest, largest and most efficient in the world. There are few services more important to all citizens, companies, and communities than aviation, so our work with the FAA will focus on containing, to the greatest degree possible, any negative effects of the agency's decision."

Review the FAA's list of contract air traffic control towers slated for closure.

Review the FAA's list of contract air traffic control towers that will remain open.

NBAA will continually update its Members on major developments about the sequester's impact on aviation; for answers to questions as needed, NBAA Members can contact the Association's Operations Service Group at (202) 783-9250, or [email protected].

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Founded in 1947 and based in Washington, DC, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is the leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful. The Association represents more than 9,000 companies and provides more than 100 products and services to the business aviation community, including the NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition, the world's largest civil aviation trade show. Learn more about NBAA at www.nbaa.org.

Members of the media may receive NBAA Press Releases immediately via email. To subscribe to the NBAA Press Release email list, submit the online form
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FAA Approves Certification Plan for Boeing 787 Battery Solution

FAA has approved Boeing’s certification plan for the redesigned 787 Dreamliner battery system, the first step in the process to return the aircraft to commercial service.

The agency grounded all in-service Boeing 787s in January, following several incidents involving malfunctioning of the plane’s lithium ion battery system and other critical components while it was being operated on commercial flights.

In a statement, FAA said the internal battery components have been redesigned to minimize initiation of a short circuit within the battery, better insulation of the cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system.

During its ongoing investigation of the Japanese Airlines 787 battery fire that occurred at Boston’s Logan International Airport in January, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discovered that the origin of the fire was a short circuit occurring within one of the battery’s eight cells.

"Our proposal includes three layers of improvements. First, we've improved design features of the battery to prevent faults from occurring and to isolate any that do. Second, we've enhanced production, operating and testing processes to ensure the highest levels of quality and performance of the battery and its components," said Ray Conner, president and CEO of Boeing's commercial airplanes unit. "Third, in the unlikely event of a battery failure, we've introduced a new enclosure system that will keep any level of battery overheating from affecting the airplane or being noticed by passengers," Conner added.

The redesign of the battery system will be approved only if the battery system completes all required tests and analysis to comply with FAA requirements. The airworthiness directive issued by the agency in January is still in effect, although two 787s have been approved to perform limited test flights. Those two planes will have the new versions of the battery containment system installed.

“We are confident the plan we approved today includes all the right elements to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the battery system redesign,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “Today’s announcement starts a testing process which will demonstrate whether the proposed fix will work as designed.”

The agency did not disclose a possible return to service date for the 787.

Article Published: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 - By: www.aviationtoday.com

FAA Publishes Clarification Regarding Fuel Reimbursement Exemption For Charitable Medical Flights

On February 22, 2013, the FAA published a Policy Clarification on Charitable Medical Flights addressing the reimbursement of fuel expenses for pilot's flying charitable medical flights. As you may recall, 14 C.F.R. 61.113 prohibits a private pilot from acting as pilot in command of an aircraft that is carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire and, for any other flight carrying passengers, a private pilot may not pay less than his or her pro rata share of the operating expenses (fuel oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees). In order to pay less than his or her pro rata share the pilot would have to hold a commercial pilot certificate. As a result, up until recently private pilots operating charitable medical flights could not receive reimbursement for their fuel etc. without complying with Section 61.113, which defeated the purpose of a "charitable" medical flight.

However, Section 821 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 addressed the situation and now requires that the FAA allow an aircraft owner or operator to accept reimbursement from a volunteer pilot organization (such as Angel Flight, Wings of Mercy etc.) for the fuel costs associated with a flight operation to provide transportation for an individual or organ for medical purposes. In order to take advantage of this law, volunteer pilot organizations have petitioned the FAA for exemptions from the requirements of Section 61.113(c) so that their pilots can be reimbursed for some or all of the expenses they incur while flying these flights, since reimbursement for the flights would otherwise be prohibited by Section 61.113(c).

The FAA will issue these exemptions if the applying volunteer pilot organization complies with the following conditions and limitations by:

  1. Developing of a pilot qualification and training program;

  2. Authenticating pilots' FAA certification;

  3. Requiring flight release documentation;

  4. Imposing minimum pilot qualifications (flight hours, recency of experience, etc.);

  5. Requiring a 2nd class FAA medical certificate;

  6. Requiring the filing of an instrument flight plan for each flight;

  7. Restricting pilots to flight and duty time limitations;

  8. Requiring mandatory briefings for passengers;

  9. Imposing higher aircraft airworthiness requirements; and

  10. Requiring higher instrument flight rules (IFR) minimums.

Although these are the current restrictions, the various volunteer pilot organizations and the Air Car Alliance are continuing to work with the FAA to reduce these burdens that are placed on volunteer pilots and organizations who reimburse fuel. Fortunately, the FAA has indicated that it "will continuously update these conditions and limitations as necessary to best ensure these operations meet this equivalent level of safety." Hopefully those discussions will be productive and meaningful. But for now, fuel reimbursement should be available if the conditions for an exemption are met.

May An Inspector Return An Aircraft To Service As Airworthy If The Aircraft's Registration Has Expired?

According to the FAA, the answer is "yes." This question was discussed and answered in a recent  Legal Interpretation issued by the FAA's Office of the Chief Counsel. The issue arose after the FAA amended 14 C.F.R. § 47.40 to mandate that failure to renew an aircraft's U.S. registration at the end of the three-year registration period results in the expiration of the certificate. Apparently at least one Flight Standards District Office ("FSDO"), and other individuals, had taken the position that an aircraft could not be returned to service as airworthy after an inspection if the aircraft's U.S. registration had expired.

The Interpretation initially observed that an aircraft's airworthiness certificate is not "effective" if the aircraft's U.S. registration is expired. It also noted that 14 C.F.R. Part 43, which contains the FAA's general maintenance regulations, applies to a U.S. registered aircraft whether or not it has a current registration certificate and "[n]othing in the regulation indicates that a failure by the owner to renew the registration is a type of discrepancy contemplated by part 43."

The Interpretation concluded that "no current FAA regulation proscribes an approval for return to service of a U.S.-registered aircraft following an inspection required by parts 91, 125, or 135 if the aircraft's registration certificate is not current." As a result, an aircraft may be approved for return to service as airworthy as long as the aircraft

  1. has an airworthiness certificate (regardless of whether or not it is effective);

  2. conforms to its type certificate (including any applicable supplemental type certificates (STC) and is in compliance with all applicable airworthiness directives (AD)); and

  3. is in condition for safe operation.

What can we learn from this situation, beyond the obvious interpretation of the regulations? FSDOs don't always interpret or apply the FARs correctly. As a result, if you disagree with a FSDO's interpretation and application of the FARs, you should definitely pursue relief up the FAA food-chain to the regional or national level. Although you still may not get the relief you would like, at least you should be able to get the correct answer.

Wonder What The Term "Congested Area" Means? Some FAA Inspectors Wonder That Too.

One of the frustrating aspects of aviation faced by airmen is the lack of concrete, objective definitions in the FARs. Rather than giving us a definition we can use and apply, oftentimes the FAA and the NTSB have opted for taking a "case-by-case" approach in determining how to apply certain terms. Unfortunately, this "I'll know it when I see it" approach isn't particularly helpful for airmen out in the real world.

The FAA recently reiterated this position in a Memorandum issued by the Office of Chief Counsel in response to a request for a legal interpretation submitted by Melvin O. Cintron, manager of the FAA's General Aviation and Commercial Division. Specifically, Mr. Cintron was looking for a legal interpretation regarding the definitions of limitations on experimental aircraft, particularly with regards to Living History Flight Experience (LHFE) flights operations. However, the Memorandum addressed the issue of these definitions more broadly.

The Memorandum initially observed that these terms, along with other terms such as "congested areas," "other than congested areas," "sparsely populated," and "open air assembly of persons" appear in a number of the FARs including:

§ 91.119 (Minimum Safe Altitudes: General);

§ 91.303 (Aerobatic Flight);

§ 91.313 (Restricted Category);

§ 91.319 (Aircraft having experimental certificates: Operating limitations);

§ 133.33 (Operating rules);

§ 137.49 (Operation over other than congested areas)

§ 137.51 (Operation over congested areas: General); and

§ 137.53 (Operation over congested areas: Pilots and aircraft.

Unfortunately, it then stated "[w]e are unable to provide you with discrete definitions for these terms." And the FAA is apparently satisfied with this fact because the Memorandum goes on to state "there has been a long history stretching back over 40 years of using a case-by-case approach in determining how to apply those terms and how they relate to one another" and "[t]his approach 'is well documented and supported by many legal opinions issued by the FAA, the National Transportation Board (NTSB) and federal courts.'"

With respect to "densely populated", "congested area" in the context of FAR 91.119 cases the Memorandum observed that "[t]here is no precise density of population, ground traffic or congestion, or description of the proximity of buildings, or number of residences." It went on to note the term "congested airway" has not been specifically referenced or defined by interpretation. Although the Memorandum speculated as to why that was the case, it did not attempt to provide any guidance or interpretation of that term.

Next, the Memorandum rejected Mr. Cintron's suggestion that pilots should be able to easily determine the meaning of any definitions during their preflight planning using existing navigation aids and charts. According to the FAA, aeronautical charts and NOTAMs only provide "general guidance" for use in complying with FAR 91.119 and a pilot should obtain local information from their local Flight Standards District Office for use with the pilot's prior knowledge of the area and information the pilot obtains from other sources. After all, the Memorandum observed, "[u]ltimately, it is the pilot's responsibility to maintain the minimum safe altitudes required by § 91.119."

Finally, the Memorandum concluded that Mr. Cintron should "review of the appropriate FAA guidance material to determine whether further explanation of these definitions through examples may help users and inspectors to better understand what is meant by these terms." From my perspective, and, I suspect, the perspective of most pilots, this isn't very helpful.

What is troubling for me is that the confusion regarding the meaning of these undefined terms isn't limited to pilots. Inspectors don't know what these terms mean or how they are to apply them to pilots' operations. Unfortunately, this Memorandum tells me that the situation won't be changing anytime soon. As a result, airmen should make sure they are familiar with the areas over which they fly and remember that the FAA, NTSB and the Court will judge a flights compliance with FAR 91.119 using 20/20 hindsight.

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