Mercy Flight, NH90 in Germany, Air Evac Lifeteam pilot incapacitation training, and more!
The heated debate over the United States Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) recommended policy change concerning certification of inlet barrier filters (IBFs) continues, with the helicopter industry finally feeling hope toward a compromise. After almost a year of providing comments, input and Congressional pressure, the industry has been invited to join a committee to review the policy, which may help remove prohibitive obstacles in the proposed changes.
Used by the military since the 1960s and the civilian industry since the mid-1990s, aftermarket IBFs — passive filter assemblies that prevent airborne particles from being ingested into aircraft engines — require FAA approval in the form of a supplemental type certificate (STC).
Since the addition of an IBF to an aircraft could potentially reduce air pressure to the engine, especially once it begins to trap particles, STC applicants must provide procedures to avoid significant loss in power when an IBF is installed. Since turbine engines are designed with a power margin above minimum requirements, IBF manufacturers require periodic power assurance checks, and this has satisfied STC certification requirements to date. These power checks also let operators know when a filter must be cleaned or replaced, as increased particles in the filter will further degrade the power available.
Using this procedure, the industry’s two aftermarket IBF manufacturers, Aerometals and Donaldson, have together received more than 20 FAA STCs for IBFs, which have been installed on an estimated 7,000 aircraft and flown a collective 20 million flight hours with an exemplary safety record.
Despite these statistics, earlier this year the FAA released a draft policy statement disqualifying the current STC certification practice of performing these power checks. While FAA Rotorcraft Directorate manager Lance Gant told a crowd at the HAI Heli-Expo FAA town hall in March 2016 there are no safety concerns with current IBF certification practices, the FAA policy document stated “performing periodic power assurance checks with the IBF installed based on the original (without the IBF installed) set of installation losses is not an acceptable means of compliance.”
Instead, the FAA is calling for IBF manufacturers to work directly with engine manufacturers’ engine installation data, perform specialized flight testing, and develop new charts reflecting reduced performance data.
Both Aerometals and Donaldson have stated these new, higher requirements could potentially bring an end to aftermarket IBFs.
“This policy would shut down the aftermarket IBF industry, setting [a] precedent that could shut down all aftermarket innovation,” said Lori Symon, executive director of Aerometals. “What the FAA is requesting is extremely expensive and ultimately cost prohibitive.”
One large concern and long-time complaint by Aerometals and Donaldson, is a general lack of cooperation from engine OEMs. In order to perform comprehensive engine checks, the IBF manufacturers require access to the engine installation manuals with all the engine performance data. The OEMs have sometimes refused to share this information, saying the manuals are proprietary. Without this, aftermarket manufacturers are forced to use what data is publicly available, or recreate all testing and charts from scratch — a financially prohibitive option.
At a public hearing in July, the industry came together to share its concerns with the FAA about the recommended policy change and its potential impact on a technology that has improved helicopter performance, substantially reduced the cost of maintenance, and enhanced operators’ margin of safety. Aerometals and Donaldson testified, as did Bell and Sikorsky, who each shared testimony in support of IBFs, along with several operators using IBFs.
Both Aerometals and Donaldson expressed their belief that Airbus convinced EASA to change the rules in its favor. Aerometals president Rex Kamphefner summed up the sentiment of the majority in his testimony.
“There are three companies that make inlet barrier filters. Aerometals is one. Donaldson is another. The third is Airbus for the aftermarket,” Kamphefner said. “The FAA proposes to force the two U.S. companies out of the aftermarket [through the addition of 90 new requirements to the certification process]. Only Airbus will remain active.”
Kamphefner claimed that in response to Aerometals’ meeting with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to discuss filter certification for the EC135, Airbus proposed regulations to EASA that only the OEM could meet. EASA adopted the Airbus-recommended regulations and in turn is pressuring the FAA to standardize its regulations with those of EASA.
“Conclusion: Standardization is the highest priority to our bureaucrats in Washington,” Kamphefner said. “Even if American manufacturers must be driven out of business; even if 25 models of legacy helicopters will be denied the benefits of filters; even if they have to lay off dozens of workers, the FAA believes that standardization with the rules developed in Europe for the benefit of European industry is the highest consideration.”
Many speakers at the hearing shared experiences of the cost-savings from prevention of engine damage IBFs have provided companies and agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, San Diego Sheriff’s air unit, and emergency medical services operators like Air Methods.
“There are more than 40 U.S. law enforcement agencies that use helicopters equipped with IBF systems, which generate millions of dollars in taxpayer savings by reducing the need for engine maintenance,” said Paul Ross, manager of sales and support for Donaldson.
Others expressed concerns about a perceived double standard, where the recommended policy changes would require higher standards than unprotected engines, as well as citing a violation of the FAA’s own Regulation 8100.16, which states a “policy statement may define a means of compliance, but it must be consistent with the language of the regulation and the regulatory preamble. Only the rulemaking process can effect changes to regulations. Policy statements must not contradict regulatory language.”
A New Hope
Before and since the hearing, the industry has been pushing for the FAA to come to the table to discuss how the two could work together toward a mutually acceptable solution. Both IBF companies have solicited and received help from members of Congress who have in turned written to FAA administrator Michael Huerta in support of industry.
Since taking testimony in July, the FAA has publicly remained silent on its process. Despite several calls and emails to the FAA public information office and Gant, Vertical did not receive a response to questions regarding next steps.
However, Matthew Fortuna, Donaldson’s global general manager for Aerospace and Defense, said the FAA recently approached Donaldson and Aerometals to welcome the companies to participate in an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee to review the policy. Plans for the committee are still in the works.
“We hope to work with them to highlight a clear path on what is required for STC approval, and assure it’s realistic and achievable,” Fortuna said. “And engine installations would have to be made available to aftermarket companies. Truly, from all of us, what has been encouraging in this long process is the support we’ve received from end users and the industry. We’re very encouraged that the FAA is considering a different path at this point.”