After denying Bell Helicopters request for an exemption to the Federal Aviation Regulations Part 27 weight limit for normal category rotorcraft, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seeking comment on whether that weight limit should be revised.
On Feb. 22, the FAA published a request for comments in the Federal Register seeking input on whether to change the existing applicability standards for maximum weight and number of passenger seats for Part 27 and Part 29 rotorcraft, or whether to consider other approaches for determining applicability. Currently, Part 27 limits normal category rotorcraft to a maximum weight of 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) and a maximum passenger capacity of nine. Heavier and higher-capacity rotorcraft must be certified under the more stringent transport-category requirements of Part 29.
The request for comments comes after the FAA denied a petition by Bell to increase the maximum gross weight (MGW) of its Bell 429 from 7,000 to 7,500 pounds. Originally approved by Transport Canada, the 500-pound MGW increase for the 429 has now been approved by 15 countries, most recently Nigeria. According to Bell, extensive flight test data show that the 429 suffers no technical constraints under the increased MGW. Moreover, in its application to the FAA, Bell argued that the weight increase actually enhances safety, because it provides operators with the ability to carry additional fuel and safety equipment.
However, the FAA found no compelling safety reason for an exemption for the 429. In its ruling last year (which has since been formally appealed by Bell), the FAA said an increased MGW for the aircraft would present Bell Canada, Bell 429 operators and their customers with an economic advantage over their Part 27 competitors since their competitors are limited to a 7,000-pound MGW. Comparable helicopters at a similar weight class that are Part 29 certified would also be at a disadvantage since they were required to meet more costly Part 29 certification requirements.
Yet the FAA acknowledges that the evolution of the Part 27 and 29 rules has not kept pace with technology and the capability of newer rotorcraft. Consequently, it is willing to consider a comprehensive rulemaking process that would eliminate the current weight standard for rotorcraft certification, much as Part 23 standards for small airplanes are now being reorganized on the basis of airplane performance and complexity, rather than weight. Alternately, the FAA may undertake a smaller rulemaking effort to update a limited number of regulations in Parts 27 and 29. The FAA last revised the weight standard for Part 27 in the mid-1990s, when it increased the limitation from 6,000 to 7,000 pounds with added passenger safety requirements.
The deadline to submit comments is May 23, 2013. The complete request for comments can be found by clicking here.