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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Docs Show FAA Was Angry Over Bell's Weight Exemption

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

The Canadian Press, a news organization based in Toronto, is reporting that government documents recently obtained under the Canadian equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act in the U.S., show that the FAA and EASA made "strenuous objections" over Transport Canada's (TC) handling of a special weight exemption for the Bell 429. The exemption, which was granted in 2012, allows the aircraft to be operated at a higher category than its weight would normally permit. The exemption for the helicopter, which Bell manufactures in Mirabel, Quebec, allowed it to enter a $172-million contract to build 15 helicopters for the Canadian coast guard, which it subsequently won.

The FAA had denied Bell's petition for a similar exemption, which effectively kept the aircraft under Part 27 "normal" category based upon its average empty weight of 5,100 lbs, instead of the desired Part 29 "transport" category, which would have allowed the 429 to fly a greater range of missions.

One document from Kimberly Smith, manager of the FAA's rotorcraft directorate, states: "Currently, rotorcraft that exceed [a maximum of] 7,000 lbs are expected to meet a higher level of safety prescribed by Part 29, transport category rotorcraft. To allow a rotorcraft to be certified at a higher weight than allowed by the regulations undermines the very philosophy that has served the United States aviation community since the beginning."

In an acquired e-mail message, Transport Canada's director of regulatory authority noted: "EASA expressed disappointment that we had not given them a heads up about this exemption and about our intention to consider it."

One of Transport Canada's justifications for allowing the 429 exemption is that Bell offers a package that includes many of the technologies required for transport category aircraft, such as radar altimeter, helicopter terrain awareness and warning system (H-TAWS), cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder. Several other governments joined Canada in granting an equivalent exemption.

Smith expressed a willingness to revisit the regulation, saying, "Any change to the current philosophy of rotorcraft airworthiness needs to be done in a public forum." 

Related: Airframe News

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