FAA denies Bell Canada appeal for 429 weight increase


FAA has denied an appeal from Bell Canada to reconsider a petition to increase the maximum gross weight to 7,500 pounds. Bell Helicopter Photo

Bell Canada’s bid to have the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration reconsider a 2012 decision that rejected a 500-pound weight increase for the Bell 429 has been denied. In a decision from deputy administrator Michael Whitaker dated Oct. 17, the FAA determined that “the case presented [for] reconsideration does not warrant a change to the original conclusions.” The decision goes on to state “there was no new information to consider beyond that provided in the original petition.”

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In January 2012, Bell Canada sought an exemption from section 27.1 (a) of the Code of Federal Regulations that would have raised the maximum gross weight for the 429 from 7,000 to 7,500 pounds. The U.S. petition was submitted after Canada — and a number of other countries around the world — had already approved the 500-pound increase. According to Bell, in addition to Canada, the weight increase has been approved in 18 countries, including Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Israel and Mexico.

The FAA issued a denial in August 2012, and Bell Canada submitted an appeal in October 2012. In December 2012, the FAA received 57 comments from various parties including manufacturers, emergency medical service (EMS) operators, law enforcement agencies, helicopter maintenance facilities, government officials and others looking to purchase or operate a Bell 429.

In its decision to reject the petition a second time, the FAA fired back at a number of questions raised during the appeals process, including that the decision was political in nature based on U.S. manufacturers taking priority over manufacturers based outside the country. The FAA said it disagrees with this assertion.

Other comments in support of the petition were very general “without providing any additional information or quantifiable data not already addressed in the original denial decision,” the response notes.

The original 2012 denial “noted that the exemption sought by Bell Canada would place the Bell 429 at a competitive advantage,” the agency responds. “The point illustrated the unfair consequence that would result, which essentially amounted to a request to deviate from the applicability sections in parts 27 and 29.”

Some commenters said that certification of the Bell 429 under part 29 would either be economically unfeasible or would result in an increased cost to Bell Canada’s customers. “The FAA’s exemption process addressed whether a petitioner has met the agency’s standards, not the costs involved,” the denial states in response. “If Bell were to pursue certifying the 429 to part 29, which it has not to this point, the costs and benefits of stepping up to part 29 standards would be a business decision for Bell and its current 429 customers.”

The agency also asserted that the 2012 denial was consistent with past exemption requests, adding that Bell did not demonstrate how the weight increase would improve safety or benefit the public at large.

The manufacturer’s claim that the 429 meets “almost all” of the current part 29 requirements, the FAA notes, “gives even more weight to the position that [Bell Canada] could have, and should have, (as Eurocopter [Airbus Helicopters] did), sought certification of the Bell 429 under part 29 and requested exemptions for those part 29 requirements the aircraft could not meet.” While the FAA said it understands that certification under part 29 is a more involved process, the agency said it appears Bell Canada “wishes to be granted the same regulatory relief as Eurocopter and other manufacturers who pursued the more burdensome path, without taking that path itself.”

Bell Helicopter released the following statement in reaction to the ruling:

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“The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to deny our request to certify the Bell 429 at 7,500 pounds in the United States is disappointing. While we appreciate the time the FAA took to review our petition and the new information we brought forward, we believe the decision does not reflect the capabilities of the aircraft nor the positive contribution to public safety of the Bell 429 with an additional 500 lbs. 18 countries have validated the 429 at 7,500 pounds based on Transport Canada’s extensive technical evaluation and we will continue pursuing additional exemptions globally.
 
“Nonetheless, customer demand for the Bell 429 is growing worldwide in its current 7,000-pound configuration and we expect this trend to continue. The Bell 429 installed base has doubled since 2012 and has grown to include more than 30 countries. For example, our installed Bell 429 fleet in Europe has grown from two aircraft to nearly 50 in the last two years. Our business plan is based upon the remarkable customer response to the Bell 429 as certified, not the incremental benefit of the increased gross weight.
 
“Bell Helicopter remains committed to discussions with the FAA, EASA, Transport Canada, and the rotorcraft community about the modernization of rotorcraft regulations. We believe a fresh approach is necessary to more efficiently introduce newer technologies that can improve safety throughout the rotorcraft industry.”

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