In issuing its 2019-2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements last month and in holding a recent public meeting, the National Transportation Safety Board has renewed its efforts in identifying safety gaps in Part 135 [Code of Federal Regulations, title 14, Part 135] aviation operations and recommending actions that the Federal Aviation Administration and Part 135 operators to eliminate preventable crashes.

Part 135 operations involve smaller aircraft (less than 30 seats) and its operators include air medical transportation service providers (both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters), charter, and on-demand air transportation. The NTSB’s Fact Sheet accompanying its Part 135 operations Most Wanted List (MWL) item indicates that these aircraft totalled 3.9 million flight hours in 2016.  In several Board Accident Reports involving crashes of Part 135 flights, the NTSB has pointed out that the FAA does not require Part 135 operators to meet the same safety requirements as commercial airlines.  More specifically, the recent MWL item on Part 135 operations stated:

Most of the organizations that conduct Part 135 operations do not have—and are not required to have—a safety management system (SMS), flight data monitoring (FDM), or controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)-avoidance training program. These programs enable operators to take a strategic approach to safety management, requiring that safety-focused policies, practices, and procedures be implemented to keep aircrews and passengers safe. SMS and FDM programs also yield data that can be used to improve safety practices to better prevent accidents. We don’t know how many operators have SMS or FDM programs because the FAA doesn’t require operators to implement and report on them.

During its March 12 public NTSB Board Meeting to consider the fatal crash of an aircraft near Teterboro Airport, NTSB Chairman Sumwalt indicated in his closing statement that “[e]ach time you take a Part 121 flight, you benefit from safety programs that can and should be extended to Part 135 operations.”  Although the Board’s Accident Report on this crash will not be publicly available for several weeks, the NTSB staff summary of the Board meeting lists three new safety recommendations to the FAA and reiterates six previous safety recommendations to the FAA eliminate the gaps in the safety oversight of Part 135 operations.  One of these reiterated recommendations stems from a 2016 crash of a Part 135 flight in Akron, Ohio, and urges the FAA require Part 135 operators to install flight data recording devices capable of supporting a flight data monitoring program.

As a somewhat related matter, section 311 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 (Public Law 115-254, Oct. 5, 2018), requires the FAA Administrator to determine,, in collaboration with the NTSB and Part 135 industry stakeholders, “what, if any, additional data should be reported as part of an accident or incident notice— (A) to more accurately measure the safety of on-demand part 135 aircraft activity; (B) to pinpoint safety problems; and (C) to form the basis.”  The provision calls for the Administrator’s determination within one year of the statute’s enactment – by October 5, 2019.