Aircraft Operational Control: NTSB Wants Clarifications

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The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board last week said it wanted the FAA to ensure each Part 135 air taxi operator "can demonstrate to the FAA that it is maintaining adequate operational control over all on-demand charter flights conducted under the authority of its certificate." The recommendation was one of several handed down by the NTSB as it concluded its investigation into the Feb. 2, 2005, crash of a Bombardier Challenger CL-600-1A11, at the Teterboro Airport (KTEB) in New Jersey. According to the NTSB, the jet rolled off the departure end of KTEB's Runway 6 at a ground speed of about 110 knots, through a perimeter fence, across a six-lane highway and into a parking lot before impacting a building. The two pilots were seriously injured, as were two occupants in a vehicle; the airplane was destroyed. The NTSB's finding of probable cause concluded the Challenger's center of gravity was "well forward of the forward takeoff limit, which prevented the airplane from rotating at the intended rotation speed." The NTSB also found the flight was operated by Platinum Jet Management, LLC (PJM) of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., under a management agreement with Darby Aviation (Darby) based in Muscle Shoals, Ala. According to the NTSB, PJM conducted charter flights without proper FAA certification or compliance with Part 135.

Most important, Darby failed to maintain operational control over flights being conducted by PJM, resulting in systemic flight crew deficiencies. Additionally, the Birmingham, Ala., FAA Flight Standards District Office failed to provide adequate surveillance and oversight of operations conducted under Darby’s Part 135 certificate while the agency gave tacit approval to arrangements like the one between Darby and PJM. In response to the NTSB recommendations, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) said it supported the NTSB's recommendations. "NBAA supports the NTSB's reasonable and effective recommendations for improving the safety of charter flights," said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. "We are confident that industry will be receptive to the recommendations, making charter operations, which already enjoy a strong safety record, even safer." The NTSB recommended that the FAA provide more detailed specifications concerning what constitutes an appropriate operational control relationship. The clarification is expected to assist aircraft owners and charter operators in understanding the difference between appropriate and inappropriate operational control relationships.