An FAA spokesman says a paperwork snag that has grounded an unknown number of French-built Alouette helicopters in the U.S. doesn't seem to have any easy solution. "The short answer is they're ungroundable," Roland Herwig, a communications officer for the FAA's Southwest office, told AVweb on Friday. Herwig also said he's continuing to gather information on the unusual case, which has shut down at least one helicopter operation in West Virginia. As AVweb reported in a July 20 podcast, Marpat Aviation of Logan, W.Va., had three Alouettes grounded on July 6 after FAA inspectors, accompanied by two state troopers, failed to find a Certificate of Airworthiness for Export that would have been issued by French authorities when the aircraft were sent to the U.S. Joe Altizer, Marpat's chief pilot, said the helicopters were purchased in the U.S. and all came with current U.S.-issued certificates of airworthiness in the standard category, meaning that FAA staff approved them for import without the paper they're now demanding. Altizer says it's not fair that current operators of the aircraft, who might be the third or fourth U.S. owners of them, should have their investments essentially erased because of an administrative error at the FAA.
Altizer said he and other Alouette owners have offered alternative solutions to the paper snag. He said the regs allow for other methods of proving airworthiness, but the FAA doesn't seem interested in pursuing them. He said the operators have even offered to bring French officials to the U.S. to inspect the aircraft and issue attestations to their airworthiness, but the FAA seems stuck on having the original paperwork only. The French officials wouldn't be able to issue export papers because the aircraft have already left their country."They're asking us for impossible paperwork," he said. Altizer said the aircraft can't even be shipped back to France because they can't be exported without current airworthiness certificates. Altizer said that to this point he's been cooperating with the FAA to try and find a mutually acceptable solution, but the agency's intransigence and apparent unwillingness to reveal information about the situation is forcing him to change tactics. The former Marine Corps air traffic controller says he's contacted his congressman and is looking for a meeting with top FAA officials, up to and including Administrator Marion Blakey.