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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is increasing its scrutiny of equipment used by helicopter operators conducting human external cargo (HEC) operations.
HEC operations are common in the power utility industry as a method of transporting personnel to transmission lines and towers that would otherwise be difficult to reach. In the U.S., many power utility operators carry personnel at the end of a helicopter’s long line as Class B loads under 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 133.
According to a statement provided to Vertical by the FAA, during a recent accident investigation, the agency became aware of non-HEC-certified external cargo hook kits being used to carry people. The agency is reminding operators that attaching means such as cargo hooks that are approved for external occupants require documentation in the supplemental type certificate (STC) and/or rotorcraft flight manual supplement (RFMS) that those attaching means meet 14 CFR part 27 or part 29 certification requirements for HEC.
When there is no mention of HEC certification in the STC and/or RFMS, the attaching means may not be used for an external occupant during an operation, unless there is other documentation indicating approval for HEC.
“The FAA must ensure that all HEC operations are conducted with properly certified and approved attaching means,” the statement reads. “The HEC design requirements were created to ensure that when a person is carried external to a rotorcraft, the attaching means will not inadvertently release the external occupant. This goal is achieved by increasing the reliability of the static strength and fatigue testing. Operators are strongly encouraged not to conduct HEC operations with attaching means not certificated to the part 27/29 HEC requirements.”
The FAA said that it expects to issue further guidance in the near future that will explain in detail the HEC concern, including paths to compliance.
Chris Martino, vice president of operations for Helicopter Association International (HAI), recently told Vertical, “HAI is currently working with the FAA to resolve this issue. As always, our strongest concern is for safe and legal flight operations.”
He added that the subject will be addressed at the Utilities, Patrol and Construction (UPAC) meeting at the upcoming HAI Heli-Expo 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. That meeting is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, in rooms N237-N239 of the Las Vegas Convention Center.