Business and general aviation safety regulations in the USA

Business and general aviation safety regulations in the USA


The domain of aircraft ownership and operation by individuals and corporate entities (more commonly referred to as ‘general’ and/or ‘business’ aviation) is governed by specific aviation safety regulations, and in the United States those rules are found in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), once referred to as the Federal Aviation Regulations with the acronym FAR until that contraction was taken over by the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

The same general principles are found in almost every country, particularly if that “state” is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that sets the standards for aviation safety worldwide.

Flying for private or recreational purposes

When a business or individual uses an aircraft for ‘private or recreational’ purposes, the circumstances under which the flight may be conducted for compensation or hire are very limited (see 14 CFR sec. 91.501(b)).

The pilot and aviation maintenance personnel are expected to know the rules of the sky, including the requirement that the owner/operator must fly an airworthy aircraft in compliance with the ‘flight rules’. In the United States, the general flight rules are contained in 14 CFR part 91.

The ‘operator’ is usually a properly certificated pilot, who must be evaluated to obtain various levels of competence (ratings) to fly differing aircraft types with passengers. Those ratings are issued under part 61 of the aviation safety regulations, which provides the training, hours of experience and capabilities that must be shown to obtain the applicable level of qualification.

When that individual is or becomes the ‘pilot in command’ s/he must ensure the aircraft has the appropriate maintenance performed (by reviewing the maintenance records) and is in a condition for safe operation (by conducting a walk around prior to departure for example). If the aircraft is ‘unairworthy’, it cannot be flown (with some exceptions such as ferry permits), discrepancies must be addressed by maintenance and the work must be approved for return to service before the pilot once again ascertains whether the plane can be flown.

Corporate operations

Corporate entities need to have a decent understanding of the ‘not for compensation or hire’ aspects of owning and operating an aircraft. The pilot is not in the best position to monitor the nuances associated with each flight. The reason and purpose of carrying passengers, and the types of passengers are important if any exchange of value takes place for or because of the flight. For example, flying a corporate executive in the company aircraft to conduct business is one thing, carrying the executive’s family so it may go on a holiday after business has been conducted may be an altogether different thing, especially if charges, assessments or fees are made for the transportation. Potential IRS issues must also be addressed.

In order to avoid many of these complications, some companies in the US chose to obtain an ‘air carrier’ or “operating” certificate that entails a more comprehensive organisational and maintenance set-up but avoids having to worry about the nuances associated with every flight and every passenger. The certificate is issued under part 119 (air carriers and commercial operators) and the operations are typically conducted under part 135 (commuter, on demand operations or commercial operations); or, if the aircraft is ‘large’ enough, under part 121 (operating requirements for domestic, flag, and supplemental operations) or part 125 (operating requirements for airplanes having a seating capacity of 20 or more passengers or a maximum payload capacity of 6,000 pounds or more when common carriage is not involved).

The certificates require operational and maintenance programmes that raise the bar with respect to, among other things, the training of pilots, flight attendants and maintenance personnel, tracking of maintenance and service difficulties and safety management details that are often aligned with the business demands and acceptance of risk. Both the ‘air carrier’ and the ‘operating certificate’ also allow operations to be conducted for compensation or hire which removes the need for the pilot to police the passengers. Only the air carrier certificate allows common carriage operations that involve a holding out to the public to provide air transportation.

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