Pilot training took a considerable hit from COVID-19 as travel restrictions went into effect and training facilities shut down, so NATA sought temporary relief from deadlines pertaining to mandatory FAA inspector-supervised check rides. In December, NATA announced that the FAA granted extensions for proficiency and competency checks. For example, the agency extended the time period in which a proficiency or competency check by a check airman would have to be observed by an FAA inspector or aircrew designated examiner from 24 to 36 months. Limited relief from the time windows for completing recurrent training and qualification requirements for air crew members and ground personnel were extended through March 31, 2021.
“NATA worked with the FAA to allow these grace periods, as the pandemic often prevented FAA inspectors from observing check rides on-site,” said John McGraw, NATA Vice President, Regulatory Affairs. “NATA was able to make the case with the FAA that safety levels would not be negatively impacted by extending the deadlines.”
Along this line, McGraw chaired a working group under the auspices of the FAA’s Air Carrier Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which focused on pilot training standardization for FAR Part 135 operators. The working group recommended that a standard training program, acceptable at a national level per-airplane type, would save operators the time and expense of putting together their own training programs, which would then have to go through the FAA’s approval process. “If adopted, a standard training approach gives both the FAA and the industry the ability to make changes to the curriculum when a problem is noted. Everyone would then make identical changes based on the recommendations,” McGraw explained. A Training Standardization Working Group has been established to oversee curriculum development, and it expects to begin releasing curricula later in 2021.
For 2021, NATA sees extending safety management system (SMS) implementation to Part 135 carriers as a priority concern. McGraw pointed out that pending rules at the FAA as well as legislation in Congress could mandate SMS for on-demand charter operators. Of major concern to the Part 135 community is the possibility that the same SMS standards—mandated for years for the Part 121 commercial airlines—would be applied to them.
“NATA believes in the benefits of SMS, but we want to be sure that there is language in any SMS requirement allowing each carrier to right-size it to its operation,” McGraw noted. “An SMS for a large international airline with hundreds of aircraft would be prohibitively expensive to implement for an operator flying one or two airplanes.”
NATA also plans to work with the FAA in 2021 on issues involving urban air mobility. “We are tracking this very closely, given the interest by some of the Part 135 operators in package delivery by unmanned aerial vehicles,” said McGraw.
Issues involving PFAS, a toxic chemical used in firefighting foam, are another priority. In mid-December 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released interim guidance on the disposal and destruction of PFAS and PFAS-containing products, including aqueous film forming foam (AFFF). This was in response to a congressional mandate included in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020.
The NATA team, McGraw stressed, will be keeping a close eye on any PFAS-related issues as this topic also impacts the Association’s efforts concerning the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) 409 hangar foam fire suppression system initiative. “This requires most general aviation aircraft hangars to have automatic discharge foam fire suppression systems, which have a long record of accidental discharge, resulting in costly clean-ups for environmental regulation compliance,” he explained. “NATA has long argued that automatic fire suppression systems should not be required for the typical aircraft hangar.”