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Flying a private airplane or a helicopter can often be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With the price of business aviation services approaching those of domestic first-class flights, it’s worth reviewing just how airplane certification impacts the safety procedures of domestic operators.
Contrary to commercial aviation, which holds the main objective of transporting passengers (or multiple loads of cargo), general aviation serves a multitude of functions, not solely limited to passenger transport. One such application is the so called “Special Purpose Operations”, including agricultural spraying or aerial surveying. Executive aviation services, too, have their separate sub-categories and can be generally classified into Private (governed by FAR Part 91 regulation) and Charter (certified under FAR Part 135).
Let’s take a closer look at each of the options above. But before that, please be informed that the regulations we will elaborate on are fairly homogeneous across all countries, including the US, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada, i.e. the Top 4 markets in the business aviation segment. As long as your local regulatory body is a member of the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), there is a high chance that the same rules apply to your domestic executive aviation services as well.
Private Aviation Services (Part 91)
Most private jet owners operate their aircraft under the Part 91 certification. Such airplanes or helicopters have to “report” their procedures to the local aviation authority, but they are exempt from a number of requirements, which include:
- Less rigorous maintenance programs, generally limited to annual inspections.
- Airport landing procedures with greater supervision. The operation is more flexible, including less stringent runway limitations or instrument procedures not subject to airport’s weather equipment.
Accordingly, for Part 91 flights, the majority of the decisions related to safety and maintenance are in the hands of the owner (and their pilot). And whereas some might opt for additional certification, so as to enable sharing the costs of operating and leasing the aircraft, such practices don’t impose extra safety measures. So called “fractional ownership programs” operate under a special subsection of the regulatory frameworks, called Part 91K – already legalized in the US, but still unavailable in Brazil.
Commercial Operations (Part 135)
Part 135 is a set of rules that impose more stringent standards for charter and commuter commercial operations. The local authorities, including the FAA or ANAC, consider such rules necessary in ensuring that operators exercise caution, safety, and high service quality measures at all times. I could likely write a separate post about each of the below requirements, but to save you some time, let’s just quickly highlight the main differences between Part 135 and Part 91 rules:
- A more rigorous maintenance program. Aside from the annual inspection, operators are required to provide ongoing safety checks, including the 100-hour inspection or periodical aircraft-specific propeller checks. In Brazil, for example, the keys used to open the airplane engine are all numbered, and, to use a new key, one might then need to get approval from the authorities. Every single replacement component, propellant, or a lubricant is subject to approval by the appropriate institution.
- Pilot operations. This includes annual re-training on flight simulators, conducted in specialized training centers. Contrary to private services, all airplane flights in Brazil are conducted with two pilots.
- Landing is allowed only at specific airports. Your charter aircraft must have a 40% cushion over what the aircraft’s performance profile displays, while strict weather control rules also apply. That’s why some airports, including Angra dos Reis or Jacarepaguá, don’t allow for the landing of light jets (only turbo-props).
- Higher liability. Air taxi operators must comply with obligatory insurance plans and usually issue additional coverage for between US$10mm and US$200mm in compensation in the case of a fatal accident.
- Specific duty-time and rest requirement for the pilots. In general, once the flight time limit of 12 hours has been accrued, pilots must take an additional 12 hours of rest before boarding their next flight.
- Infrastructure and operations. The Part 135 rules require the operator to have appropriate infrastructure for the passengers and crew. A full team of management, including a Director of Operations, a Director of Maintenance, a Safety Manager, and a Chief Pilot all make up part of the operator’s team.
In Brazil, every aircraft homologated for Part 135 possesses a “táxi aéreo” tag next to the entrance.
Every air taxi operator homologated for Part 135 is required to own a valid air carrier certificate (AOC in the US, CHETA in Brazil) and individual certifications for each aircraft. This includes an Airworthiness Certificate and an Annual Maintenance Inspection Certificate. You can consult any airplane and helicopter tail number directly on the website of ANAC or FAA.
So, is it safer to fly an air taxi-certified airplane?
The short answer is, YES. Extra safety measures undergone by the air taxi operators regulated under Part 135 provide customers with more reliable (and legal) ways to hire private aircraft. Statistically speaking, in a country like Brazil, accidents involving private, non-certified aircraft, happen four times more often than those involving Part 135- certified equipment.
Here at Flapper, we are proud to work exclusively with the best Part 135 air charter operators. Our crowdsourced flights possess an additional certification for “scheduled operations”, which guarantees extra safety and higher operational standards for all passengers. Hence, when you book your next flight, rest assured that you’re in good hands. It’s a pleasure to serve you. We mean it.