Part 91 And Paying Passengers Just Don’t Mix

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In my long and hardly illustrious flying career, I have been ramp checked twice and busted once. The bust occurred on a Part 135 charter on a busy summer day in ritzy Southampton, New York, where I was supposed to be flying rich people from Kennedy airport to their tony beach houses on Peconic Bay. I was but a minor cog in the marvel of the modern transportation network, but what I was really doing was adding to the impossible din at Southampton, the very noise my passengers leveraged to try to shut the joint down to everyone but them.

I sheepishly admit it was a righteous collar. Our ops specs required me to do a weight and balance and fuel calculation, print it out and have it readily accessible in the airplane. This I had dutifully done. What I had not done is place it in the regulation 8 by 10 metal clipboard box that contained all the other airplane documentation. I’d carelessly left it in the flight planning room. The two FAA inspectors were not amused, but I eventually got off with counseling and one of the friendly chats the feds used to do to jolly would-be miscreants back from the edge of a smoking crater.

But I never did it again. Not only that, but I actually began checking the whereabouts of the aircraft logbooks and the status of the required inspections. Did this enhance safety? I would argue that it did, if just infinitesimally. It caused me to be less casual about the mundane normalcy of flights that never go wrong and to search for things that might otherwise result in the opposite outcome.

While I was covering the NTSB hearing on ways to improve revenue Part 91 flying operational safety yesterday, I couldn’t escape the feeling that maybe things have changed. And for the worse. What ignited the hearing was a series of accidents in that murky gray area of general aviation flying, paying passengers in Part 91 operations. Like the for-hire flying I was doing in Southampton, these operations de facto hold out to the general public, but aren’t subject to anything like the regulatory scrutiny focused on the airlines. In fact, in the accidents in question, the operations may have gotten no scrutiny at all.

Let’s just consider one of the accidents discussed, the Collings Foundation B-17 Nine-O-Nine crash at Windsor Locks, Connecticut, in 2019 that killed seven people. The airplane was carrying paying passengers under the Living History Flight Exemptions program. And let’s be honest here. This is a fig leaf that allows operators of airplanes never intended to carry paying passengers to do so under the assumption that supporting such “fragile” airplanes as they are called is in the interest of aviation and public policy. Well, it is, in my view. The general public ought to have access to such things and it shouldn’t be the FAA’s role to impede this. It’s right and proper for the agency to oversee such operations to ensure reasonable safety and compliance, but the disconnect is that they can be, in the aggregate, “safe,” or that the FAA’s involvement assures the kind of near-zero accident rate that the Part 121 airlines have achieved.

In the case of the Nine-O-Nine, Collings had agreed, as a condition of its LHFE approval, to develop the kind of Safety Management System that both the NTSB and FAA have touted as a bona fide means of codifying safe procedures. It was a required program. Yet the FAA never surveilled to see if Collings actually was complying and, worse, the FAA principal operations inspector overseeing the program died in 2017 and wasn’t replaced until after the accident. Moreover, the paper trail revealed that Collings’ efforts to reach out to the FAA didn’t merit so much as a courtesy reply. If there were such a thing as a reverse ramp check, the FAA would get busted on that. The final report on the Nine-O-Nine isn’t done yet, but preliminary findings noted significant engine maintenance oversights and problems with passenger restraints. These are presumably the sorts of things SMS programs are designed to detect and correct.

That’s the way it works in the Part 121 world. Airlines have entire departments devoted to compliance, they have active safety surveillance programs and FAA audits keep these things perking along. And this has ruined everything for the rest of us. Part 91 is, by intention, the remaining Wild West of aviation. Think of it: With training required only every 24 months—and not really training, but the equivalent of fogging a mirror—you can fly IFR in almost any weather you want, any time of day, with as many passengers as can fit into the airplane. Sleep? On your own for that. You’re not supposed to exceed the aircraft limitations, but who’s checking, right? You can get passengers to share costs, which some owners abusively turn into illegal charter operations. The FAA occasionally notices, but it’s hardly worthy of calling it a safety net.

So into this chaotic world, at the margins, we allow paying passengers? There’s a fundamental incompatibility here, distilling it to the choice of putting skydiving operations, balloon flights and air tours into the more restrictive Part 135 or just letting customers fend for themselves. The in-between choice, more surveillance of Part 91 operations, is a false choice, in my view. If the general public’s perception of flying safety is based on the scheduled airlines—and I would argue that it is—no amount of oversight will get Part 91 flying to that level. Sure, more inspections might prevent the occasional accident, but a more systemic solution would be better, otherwise we’re just misleading the uninformed public that the FAA is assuring safety of these operations.

I don’t think this is so much a cost burden for operators as it is the FAA’s inability to perform oversight tasks at this level. In my worldly experience, the FAA is just like any other large organization; its competence and professionalism are stratified. Some in the FAA are dedicated, motivated professionals who try to do the right thing, while others are just chair warmers waiting for that 20-year point on the calendar. Unfortunately, there rarely seems to be any accountability for FAA incompetence. Did any heads roll for its lack of responsive oversight prior to the Collings crash? If so, I haven’t heard about it. This is managerial and cultural rot. If the organization has an overarching culture of individuals not owning problems and fixing them, nothing gets done.

What to do here? First, the NTSB is right to examine this issue, but is constrained in what it can do. To push the FAA into action would probably require congressional heat. But even that sometimes doesn’t yield results, since the agency is famous for ignoring congressional mandates with little accountability. It seems to me no new regulations are required. It’s reasonable to believe that if existing procedures had been followed, the Collings maintenance issues might have been identified and corrected, with the emphasis on might. It’s a better-than-nothing kind of thing. That applies to the Dillingham skydiving crash in Hawaii, too. Maintenance issues with the airplane were egregious and surveillance was nonexistent. Even cursory FAA inspections should have caught this. The FAA needs to do the basic job, never mind an enhanced one.

The NTSB’s proposal for a broad national safety standard for this kind of flying is, in my view, a dead end. It’s not specific enough and even with direct guidance on simple requests from the NTSB, the FAA often stalls. Sometimes for years. That’s not always a bad thing, otherwise we would be buried in regulation and despite our self-pitying complaints, Part 91 is hardly overregulated. Perhaps the new standard could work if it originated from within the industry rather than by top-down government diktat. I’d rather such a thing come from AOPA, USPA or EAA rather than the FAA. There’s an argument to be made for training guidelines for, say, skydiving aircraft pilots or air tour operators. Still, these are likely to reduce accidents only in the margins, if they reduce them at all.

Ultimately, Part 91 flight safety depends much more on the judgment, skill and attitude of the pilot than does Part 121 or even 135 flying. In Part 91 flying, almost all the judgments are made in the cockpit without benefit of the overwatch of professional dispatchers, meteorologists and maintenance at the other end of a satellite phone or an ACARS message. We set it up that way. We want it that way.

The Lockhart, Texas, balloon accident was an example of the consequences. The pilot made a momentary decision on takeoff performance in marginal weather causing the balloon to strike power lines. His judgment killed 16 people. A Part 121 or 135 framework would have precluded that, but then neither of those regulations would allow flights out of a cow pasture.

During the hearing, board member Jennifer Homendy reasonably asked how does an unsuspecting person who wants to do a skydive, take an air tour or buy a ride in a vintage warbird know how or even if the operation is safe. This illuminates the larger question of what role the government should have in overseeing flight safety and, ultimately, protecting people from risk. And themselves. I view it as tiered. At the top are the scheduled airlines and some charter operations, at the bottom are ultralights and powered parachutes. The scale of oversight varies. At the top, it’s a lot. At the bottom, almost none. Part 91 operations of all kinds fall in the middle, but toward the bottom, whether they generate revenue or not.

I believe the informed consent doctrine applies here. As I’ve reported before, this is how the FAA decided to oversee tourist spaceflight. Potential passengers are informed in detail that the vehicle is not certified and that they’re on their own for assuming the risk. In my view, it’s long past time to disabuse the public of the notion that Part 91 flying is “safe” and/or that the FAA can make it that way. The government can and should impose requirements to reduce risk in design and manufacturing of aircraft, maintenance and operations and adherence to regulations. That includes reasonable surveillance and enforcement. Reduced risk is not the same thing as safe.

So the answer to member Homendy’s question is no, there isn’t a practical way to anoint a Part 91 operation as “safe” because even enhanced surveillance—which the FAA has proven itself incapable of performing—is unlikely to deliver the public’s idea of flight safety, which is Delta Air Lines. Thumbs up to better surveillance and inspections and the FAA doing its basic job of assuring compliance and of enforcing against the really bad operators. We often know who they are ahead of any accident happening. But we should stop misleading the public that flight on Part 91 airplanes represents the same level of safety as airline flying. It does not.

When I fly as a customer on skydiving airplanes, I do so as a well-informed consumer. I sign an extensive waiver that explicitly states I accept all conceivable risks. Skydiving could not exist without this. But I don’t know when the engines were inspected, how much time is on the hot sections and how much sleep the pilot had last night. Having no other choice, I consign all this to trust in the reputation of the business based on my own experience and observations. I expect the FAA to conduct enough surveillance to identify and address the flagrantly horrible sins. But the rest goes into the part of the risk that I accept and is the price of doing business in aviation.    

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29 COMMENTS

  1. WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH PAUL BERTORELLI? I can’t believe he wrote this! (sarcasm–laugh)

    FAA inspections will be the end of not only skydiving operations, but ballooning, air rides, charitable air rides, glider tows, and other “outside the envelope” operations.

    We all know (and the FAA even acknowledges) that FAA inspectors are not knowledgeable in these areas–and shouldn’t be expected to be knowledgeable. Most of the skydiving criticisms are airworthiness issues. How is an FAA-type expected to know not only about a vast number of different jump ships–but how they are maintained (other than a quick walk-around looking for the obvious)? Can the Fed tell airworthiness from the maintenance logs? Hardly–unless they have the maintenance program right in front of them. Rather, it is more likely that it would be judged on appearance alone. Yes, skydiving is hard on aircraft (and their appearance) but appearance alone doesn’t make it unsafe. Look at the Twin Otters–whether a jump plane or a life in the bush, these are WORKING airplanes–and they are more complex than a simple ramp check can ascertain when it comes to airworthiness. What’s NEXT? Airworthiness inspections for aircraft on the tiedowns? You will see aircraft owners and operators either sell the aircraft, or head for the hustings–where the FAA doesn’t intrude.

    I don’t believe the record warrants the additional inspection and “surveillance”–jump planes (usually flown by pilots with advanced ratings) have a safety record not unlike that for Private pilots. Would anyone advocate for “increased surveillance” of the private owners? There is a precedent for the failure of “increased surveillance”–the air ride business. Years ago, the same call was made–“protect the paying public by regulating the “penny a pound” ride business. The government got into the act–regulating the air ride business very nearly like charter operators–commercial pilots, mandated extra maintenance, procedures, insurance–the result was most places no longer conducted “rides”–and the industry lost a great way to introduce people to aviation. The FAA finally saw the error of their ways–and the fact that they had killed the business–and allowed air rides to continue under the same Part 91 rules–even to the extent of allowing Private Pilots to fly them (if they had minimal experience).

    Balloon rides–there are relatively few balloon ride accidents in the US. Those that DO occur are usually due to a bad decision by the pilot–not the equipment.

    What to do? Take a tip from the glider operators–its a simple machine–the ride givers have a commercial pilot certificate–and that’s about it–yet they turn out a very good record (despite not having an engine). Suggestions:
    1. For skydiving operations, no new laws–FAA can visually check the aircraft, and like any other ramp check, can request or order the logs for submission for probable cause. This in itself is he biggest thing FAA can do to address their concerns–the busness is not interrupted–the aircraft owner has the same rights as any other commercial operator–the FAA can have an inspector familiar with the aircraft look at the logs–no “maybe it’s OK–maybe not”). For pilots, a certificate check is already allowed–and the insurance companies on turbine airplanes are a LOT more strict on pilot qualifications than the FAA.
    2. For glider operations and air ride operations–the current ramp check rules seem to be working, and the safety record is good–why change?
    3. For balloon operators–again, it’s not the fault of the equipment–it’s usually the operator. There is a HUGE difference in flying an AX-6 or -7 class balloon, vs. a 16-passenger monster. Most people are not aware that air within the envelope has weight–and weight has INERTIA–the size and volume of these big balloons (and the lack of responsiveness), and the lack of passenger restraints is a big factor in balloon accidents. Why not take a tip from the aircraft certification folks at FAA, and issue SIZE or TYPE ratings for balloons over a certain size? (perhaps “over 8 passenger capacity”?) If the HARDWARE is not at fault, concentrate on the PILOT qualifications.
    4. Seaplane rides–not much different than landplanes, except for water and beaching handling–and safety equipment.
    5. Helicopter rides–currently handled by FAR 91 rules–should be the same as airplane rides (see comments on those above.

    If the FAA DOES come down with draconian rules, they will find themselves out of jobs again–these activities would be regulated out of business–FAA would do to them what they did the the Part 135 small air taxi business–DESTROY it. It USED to be that an individual could buy an aircraft–lease it to a small air taxi operator, and defray part of the operating costs–no longer–that killed the light twin charter business (and the light twin market itself) as there was no longer a market due to the regulatory cost.

    The takeaway–It is MUCH EASIER TO REGULATE THE PILOT THAN THE AIRCRAFT.

  2. In Canada the equivalent to Part 135 is Canadian Aviation Regulation Part 703. However there is a also CAR Part 702 called “Aerial Work”.
    It captures all the specialty flying like ag, survey, photo, firebombing, and skydiving.

    All skydiving operators in Canada have airplanes maintained to a commercial standard by a Approved Maintenance Organization, ( equivalent to a FAA repair station j, an approved operations manual with required annual training and annual competency checks, and are inspected by Transport Canada as part of the national surveillance plan.

    Skydiving seems to be doing just fine in Canada and has a significantly better safety record than US operations. Self regulation doesn’t work as the “standard” will be set by the worst operator.

    The warbird operators are a bit of a different story. The reality is there is almost no knowledge of warbird operations in the regulators. It is really up to the heritage organization to step up.

    This reminds me of civilian formation flying 20 years ago. After a spate of accidents the FAA told the warbird and type clubs to sort it out or the FAA would do it for them. The result was the Formation and Safety Team (FAST). It is a coalition of about a dozen groups. There are now Formation SOP’s , training and checking and a FAST card is recognized by the FAA and Transport Canada. The formation accident rate has been dramatically reduced.

    I would suggest that the groups selling warbird experience flights have to step up. Continue killing passengers in preventable accidents and they will get regulated out of existence, and they will have nobody to blame but themselves…..

    • Skydiving operators in Canada also have airspace set aside for skydiving use which allows for skydivers to jump through clouds, something that is a big no-no in the US. There are other restrictions to VFR flight in Canada that would never be willingly accepted in the US also. I have been flying pt135 in Canada for years for companies that have their own Canadian Ops specs and air carrier certificate, and never once have been ramp checked by a Transport Canada representative. I have been ramp checked by the FAA several times over the years. Every country has their own procedures that work for their own country.

  3. Both age and good fortune have accorded me the privilege of riding as a paying passenger aboard the DC-3, 4, 6, 7, CV-240, and L-1049 when those were in regular airline service. To be honest I don’t remember every sound, smell and sensation during those rides, but I do remember the existence of them and the good cabin service aboard those airliners. Those memories remain fond and nostalgic for me and that is how I want to remember them.

    To be honest I’d rather pay to listen for and hear that 2 and 4 round engine sound and then watch such an airplane fly overhead than to pay for the privilege of sitting in one as it flies over my house, particularly old warbirds not designed to transport people. And if I were flying one from the left seat, on the ground watching is also where I’d want everyone else not essential to flight to be.

    But then I speak from the experience of a particularly well self-regulated part 91, safe career. And speaking of such, lumping all part 91 ops into the same unsafe basket is tempting and seems unfair when it happens. Yes, because part 91 ops don’t operate with pages and pages of ups specs day in and day out being professionally dispatched into and out of the same airports with ILS on most runways, part 91 is inherently more risky than part 121 ops. But those risks are mitigated in well self-regulated part 91 ops, and there really is such an animal as well self-regulated and reasonably very safe part 91 ops. But such an animal requires the intentional investment in safety of a variety of expensive resources. It’s how the fortune 100s survive physically and business wise.

  4. I have a cost & life saving suggestion that requires nothing from the FAA.

    Any and All operators must have their paying passengers insured. The insurer shall require the pilot and operator to meet the requirements of a Part 121 or 135 operation (Air Carrier).

    That means, commercial rated pilots need to be familiar with an Air Carrier’s General Operations Manual (GOM). The operator (sky dive, balloon, flight school or fund raising organization) either creates it’s own GOM or pays to join into an Air Carrier’s ground school and initial training. This will bring the safety practices of the Air Carriers down to the Part 91 revenue generating organizations. Win Win.

    Like most of you, I’ve been reading accident reports for decades. Many of the accidents have a theme… ‘Ignorance’. This is not an insult, it’s purely not knowing commonly used practices and procedures acquired from over a 100 years of mistakes. Basically, what we are calling Safety Management Systems Program (SMS). The reporting and gathering of information from every little mishap for review is SMS. Creating in-house practices and procedures to prevent a repeat of the accident or incident. This comes off at first to be very time consuming and annoying but, evolves into something that pays dividends when done with focus and not bias. Focus on “PREVENTION”. If you don’t like someone and want to get them canned, this is not were you do that.

    Example: Skydive pilot in a rush falls from latter while hot fueling the Caravan. Information gathered, reviewed and prevention determined. Replaced latter with air stairs. The skydive company on the other side of the ramp comes up with a different prevention. They hire a person dedicated to fueling. Over time other risk assessments refine the practice of hot fueling and both procedures have a high level of safety and are documented in the company’s SMS training manual or GOM.

    • Insurance for skydiving operations in the air or on the ground doesn’t exist. That’s why the skydive industry relies on waivers to operate. I wonder if the respondent ever tried to get an air carrier GOM approved by the FAA. For pt135 it takes a minimum of 18 months just to get the first reading so the POI can tell you what he/she doesn’t like so you have to resubmit. The FAA has very few inspectors on staff who have any knowledge of skydiving operations, or any other pt 91 ops as pointed out here. By the time you assign a Director of Operations, a Director of Maintenance, a Chief Pilot, Director of either Training or Safety, your costs get so prohibitive that it makes it impossible to break even much less make a profit. The fact that the FAA has dragged their feet requiring SMS for pt 135 ops just goes to show what the FAA thinks of that much less the lack of participation in any voluntary SMS programs by pt 135 carriers. With jump tickets averaging $25 to $30 a ride to altitude you have to ask if skydivers would be happy paying triple that to pay for all the additional “safety” items.

      • GOMs need be APPROVED by the FAA for Part 135 and 121. The INSURANCE companies use statistics to determine what it can insure. Statistically, Air Carriers have thorough training programs and have lower accident rates. Part 91 just needs to “MEET” the requirements of an APPROVED GOM (no FAA involvement). The Statistics will determine the success of the revenue generating operators success. You will find the more thorough the training the less accidents. Many skydiving organization have very good training and low accident records and could easily be insured. Unfortunately, one out of a dozen have so many accidents they make the rest of the skydiving organizations UN-insurable. The GOM is a proven training tool, just look at the Air Carriers success.

  5. I would caution that for those that believe that more FAA inspection would “improve” “commercial Part 91 operations”–the next step is for them to “improve” PRESENT Part 91 operations.

    Does ANYBODY REALLY BELIEVE that the FAA will magically come up with “inspectors” that are familiar and knowledgeable about Skydiving, balloons, air rides, helicopter air rides, etc.?? No–they won’t.

    The FAA already has the right to oversee these operations–and defers (wait for it–wait–wait) BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO EXPERIENCE IN THESE VERY SAME OPERATIONS. Look no further than the autogyro industry–no commercial operators any more. Farrington, in Paducah, Ky. was the ONLY FAA APPROVED gyrocopter school. When the FAA made a mistake in rewriting the FARs, they uncharacteristically ADMITTED it–but since there was ONLY ONE FAA APPROVED SCHOOL, they wisely took the approach that “it is easier to issue an exemption than to correct the FARs.”

    Would anybody really ask the FAA to regulate an industry in which they ADMIT they have no expertise? Would any of these “inspectors” recognize an unairworthy balloon? Or glider tow hitch? Or bad operating practice?

    I’ve had FAA inspectors tell me that “you can’t take the doors off a Cessna for skydiving–you need to have an STC for that.” No–I show them the flight manual for “flight with door removed.” That still wasn’t enough for them–I showed them their own advisory circular that lists the aircraft “shown to have no adverse effects for flying with the door removed”–it also includes best safety practices (pilot with emergency parachute, safeguard ripcords, shallow banks, watch weight and balance, etc.) Any FAA inspector COULD utilize these very same publications to conduct a field surveillance or ramp check–but they don’t. I can’t think of anything worse than a regulator that doesn’t bother to learn about the very industry they purport to regulate.

    I’ve had FAA types tell us that “you can’t have people on the flight line during glider operations”. I then show them the operating manuals from Soaring Society of America about flight line operations–someone to attach the tow rope–checking the release–the Field Operations Director–the the wing tip runner. Worse yet, I had an FAA inspector standing upwind alongside the runway–I asked him to move back, in case the glider swerved on tow (common)–he attempted to answer by flashing his FAA badge. Are THESE the people you put your trust in?

    I’ve had FAA types tell me “you can’t launch a balloon from this (non-tower) airport–airports are for AIRPLANES.” I show him the FARs–lighter-than -air aircraft have the right of way over all other aircraft.

    I’ve had FAA inspectors tell me “You can’t have skydivers landing on the airport, they have to land OFF the airport.” I told him that is the WORST place for skydivers to land–skydivers would then be coming down through the aircraft traffic pattern. If skydivers land on the airport (but not on runways) both skydivers and pilots land into the wind–predictable, and safe.

    So often, the FAA oversight CREATES a problem where none existed before. And some people want MORE of that? Look back to the previously cited examples, and those involving the FAA’s failed attempts to regulate charitable air rides and gyrocopters. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!

    • We had one of the first US DA40 Diamond Stars grounded twice, for three and five days because the local FSDO guys thought it should not have been certified. They thought they found that the certification guys had not done their work correctly. It has since, of course, been proven to be the safest four seat plane in the fleet, by a huge margin.

      I’m not sure what response the guys got from their inter department squabble. We just got a call lifting the grounding.

  6. You can’t regulate your way to safety. Weren’t one or more of these accidents just complete neglect or carelessness, (maybe the hot air balloon accident as I recall?). Life has risks. It’s up to each of us to use discernment to evaluate those risks. I don’t think added surveillance is the answer but added incentive to encourage part 91 pilots and aircraft owners to be safer. Look at where we have come thanks to programs by AOPA, EAA, and other organizations. More regulations are not the answer here. My 2 cents…

  7. More people die Automotive accident everyday Another Political nonsense movement Airplanes got the lower percentage of accident Jesus Airplanes are cheap and fragile Aviation is not a high class thing anymore People trying take all the fun of flying away. now this days we got a bunch city busses flying around
    Regulations is not the answer example:1500hours Pilot requirement to fly for the airlines we can not allow all this socialist People working in our government destroying business

  8. Many thanks, Paul, for yet another thoughtful essay. Your comments spark three points in response:

    – Follow the science. We do not have accurate counts of the number of operations taking place annually in the few niche areas of Part 91 that legally can be paid. Without that data to form the denominator of a fraction the numerator of which is an accident or incident count, we cannot say that there’s a problem at all, much less how big a problem (if there is one) it might be. NTSB’s hearing on March focused on one or two exceptionally tragic accidents per niche, implying that these rare outliers are representative of the safety level of that whole class of operations. That is not analysis; it is propaganda.

    – Informed consent: If we had reasonably accurate counts of annual operations in the few niches of Part 91 that legally can be paid, it would be a simple matter to compile an average annual accident rate for each niche, and an almost equally simple matter to require niche Part 91 operators to provide prospective passengers with the latest rates for that niche, perhaps with those for U.S. airlines and over-the-road passenger vehicles as well, for context and comparison. A decision to undertake the activity in the face of that information would constitute informed consent, in my opinion. Gathering the necessary annual counts of operations per niche would be an excellent use of aviation association resources and a significant contribution to both industry and the flying public.

    – Words have consequences, moreso even than elections, a truth the most literate rock band ever noted 50 years ago this June. In light of this essay’s generally reasoned tone and even-handed treatment of its subject matter, the headline makes an unjustified and inflammatory claim and the term “wild west” is wildly inappropriate. Part 91 is not the “wild west” of civil aviation, unless someone’s concept of “wild” includes required government processes and government approval for every vehicle design, crucial part, production plan, and individual vehicle; government prescribed and mandated training for each driver or maintainer; constant government surveillance of vehicle location in busy areas and government control of each vehicle’s movements in busy areas…. I could go on for a long time in this vein. Part 91 is to the Wild West as a swim class at the Y is to throwing a 3-year old into the ocean to teach them how to swim. The Y may not be as spiffy as the country club pool, but it sure ain’t the coast of Maine.

    Joe C.

  9. Having learned a bit about the 909 crash, I laid the blame on Collings Foundation culture (hurry up & make more money) and the dangerous chief mechanic that also happened to be the pilot. He did so many things so obviously wrong that I get angry just thinking about it. But now I realize the FAA shares a portion of the blame, when they didn’t care enough to notice.
    The next time I see the FAA coming around to check operations, I’m going to be happier to see them.

    Thanks for all your good work, Paul Bertorelli.

  10. Great discussion. I found myself interested in the Collings B-17 crash and read a fair amount about it. Their safety standards were a joke and so was their maintenance. The FAA needs to take a hard look at the LHFE program.The flying public does tend to think that any flight they pay for is somehow blessed by the FAA and must be safe. They are being sadly fooled. The B-17 those poor passengers rode in was designed and built to fight a war 80 years ago. It was never designed to fly passengers on sightseeing hops.

  11. Great article, Paul. The FAA is unwilling and unable to direct its resources to scrutinizing these ops, and if they try it with the chair-warmers you mention, it won’t work as intended anyway. I would think Part 91 operators would be eager to step up just as an investment in their own future(s). Everywhere you look these days you see instances of Regulation By Nonparticipants, which only results in the happiness of those nonparticipants, who know little to nothing about the subject or activity in question. In a world where virtual participation is given massive cred for no good reason, Part 91 ops of warbirds becomes more and more significant. To continue, both ends of the pendulum of safety, such as the maintenance issues given inadequate importance on the one side, and the unresponsiveness of the FAA on the other, need to be brought closer to the middle. Better for those doing the actual work to come up with a solution.

  12. Long ago when I raced motorcycles, in addition to being the #1 and only Rider I was my own Chief Mechanic. If anything happened to the bike which resulted in me getting off unexpectedly, it was my responsibility. It was very easy to see that “It’ll do” and “Good Enough” is only good enough until it isn’t.

    C’mon Man – maintaining engines, no matter how old, obsolete, or hard to get parts for, is not a mystery. Yet the Collings Foundation pilot/chief mechanic thought things were good enough. His responsibility had little to do with the FAA’s unresponsiveness, and everything to do with conscientious application of his skills (demonstrated by earning an A&P, right?) and the knowledge found in the necessarily comprehensive documentation for those engines. I’m not saying anybody can do it, just that this individual did not.

  13. First, I wonder if there were more activity, if modern reputation systems like Yelp could be helpful. (Of course, not Yelp, it seems to be a protection racket, at least if what their sales people say is true). I’ve actually used Glassdoor to check out companies. Folks that cheat their employees are the same ones that behave badly in general.

    Second, I wonder if the reason the FAA isn’t that knowledgeable about part 91 isn’t because there’s not much of a career in it for employees. There is certainly no revolving door possibilities.

  14. The real issue is what does society consider “safety” and to what degree do they believe they have a reasonable expectation of it? Flying or Part 91 is only one small part of that.

    If you consider the decades from just after WW2 to present the perceived expectation of “safety” by the public has gotten strongly moved from something like “not being shot at” to “safe even if you have no clue.” Just look at what was acceptable for everyday items and activities like cars, food, clothing, children’s toys and so on.

    The expectation of the public has increasingly been toward more and more “safety.” Of course such safety comes at a cost in both monetary and opportunity terms among others but many are happy to trade such costs, including liberty, for a perception of “safety” whatever they may see it to be.

    One approach to such “safety” perceptions and demands is to declare some activities such as skydiving and Part 91 flight as “implied risk” activities where merely participating in them removes the reasonable expectation of “safety” and basically places the responsibility for such on the participant.

    Thus those who want to limit themselves to the current public expectation of an airline and its degree of safety can do so and those who want to manage the risks attendant with part 91 flights can also do it.

  15. I’m shocked that Bertorelli wouldn’t pay attention to the airplane and the reputation of the operator and pilot.

    Of course when sky diving he wears a backup way to get to the ground safely. :-o)

    There are of course many other factors in risk for skydiving.
    One tragedy was a new skydiver landing on a moving train and being drug to death.
    Over the years of just reading media in general I’ve heard of some just failing to get a parachute open, one at Issaquah WA (in the late 60s IIRC).
    When instructing my brother had a first time jumper freeze out on the strut of a high-wing airplane, had to kick his hand to get him to go – turned out he’d fortified his courage with liquid. (Must have been goaded by someone else to go skydiving. After that incident my brother had a practice of doing a bit of psychological profiling in effect, talking more to the student when out in the takeoff area.)
    My brother did fine himself, with some tricky jumps like:
    – into the Academic Quadrangle of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby BC, much planning and observation of wind aloft and at the roof of the buildings around the drop zone
    – into the stadium in Edmonton AB, past scoreboard guy wires
    – into the narrow main street of an old town in AB
    He had high performance parachutes, quite steerable but you had to keep them flying.

    • Recall the US successfully used psychological profiling to prevent hijackings after several people had copied Dan Cooper’s leaving a 727 with ransom money.

      One who did survive the jump cleverly parked his automobile in the parking area of a park in the general area he jumped into – complete with a parachuting club bumper sticker. An easy catch. Don’t want him flying the airplane – pay attention, think ahead.

  16. Certainly regulations and agencies are not a panacea.

    I believe they often prop up marginal people – who would fail left on their own.

    And some FAA employees violate policy, one in Seattle MIDO was obstinate – talented guy but….
    IIRC that was the office that had given a permit for a prototype airplane to go from Oregon to OSH – it did not arrive, so there was an understandable motivation to go overboard, but not an excuse.
    That office issued a permit for a DC-8-7x with a modest avionics modification, limiting operation to a 500 mile radius, which is nothing for a jet airliner compared to a small propeller airplane. They, I, and the test pilot did not think about that value until the weather looked marginal for local testing – but 500 nmi would not quite get us to Great Falls MT which would have been a good location. Fortunately weather cleared so we tested around PAE.

  17. I’m too young to understand the reference.

    Why are you not allowed to put your light twin on to a certificate to defray your personal use operating costs?

    Companies use their aircraft for company/personal use no? Fly their own staff here and there.