Air Transport World

Does one size fit all? (new Federal Aviation Administration safety rule will adversely impact regional airlines)

Under pressure, FAA has proposed a sweeping rule to bring regional airlines up to the standards of majors. But will it make the skies safer?

In December, U.S. FAA will issue a 1-level-of-safety rule that conceivably could force some small regional carriers out of business and eliminate air service to several communities.

The Commuter Rule, as NPRM 95-5 is called, will require FAR Part 135 carriers using 10-30-seat aircraft to operate under the more stringent Part 121. What this means is that Part 135 carriers may be required to have flight ispatchers, an independent safety director and to comply with the same flight and rest requirements as the flight crews of Part 121 airlines.

The rule also would require extensive modifications to smaller aircraft that would add more than 200 lb. to the weight of each, and cost millions of dollars, analysts claim.

A strong possibility also exists that the Age 60 rule, which prohibits pilots of that age and older from flying with Part 121 carriers, will be extended to regionals.

"About damn time," say pilot unions and consumer advocacy groups, who have been clamoring for years about "one level of safety" for all U.S. airlines. Needless to say, many regional airlines and other operators that will be affected by the rule scoff that it is unnecessary, expensive and will do little to improve safety overall.

For code-sharing regional carriers, such as Delta Connections Comair and SkyWest, which have split Part 135/121 operations, the adverse effects of the rule would be manageable. But for small airlines such as GP Express of Grand Island, Neb., and Peninsula Airlines of Anchorage, the story may be different.

For PenAir, the impact will be staggering. The airline says the flight and duty-time, and Age 60 rules together would increase its costs by $856,000 in the first year alone. "In fact, this increased cost will exceed by more than double PenAir's 1994 net profit," says VP-Operations Richard Harding, who adds that compliance with the proposed dispatch system would cost $60,000 with an additional $60,000 to revise the airline's manuals for the transition to Part 121 (see table).

PenAir and other Alaska operators complain that fundamental differences exist between the operating environments of Alaska and the lower 48 states, which FAA does not recognize. …

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