FAA Proposed Policy on Part 27 "Safety Continuum"

Single Engine IFR Update, March 2017:
AHS International Responds to FAA Proposed Policy 

FAA logo On March 9, 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released its proposed Policy PS-ASW-27-TBD, “Safety Continuum for Part 27 Normal Category Rotorcraft Systems and Equipment.”

AHS experts reviewed the document and provided detailed recommendations and feedback in a letter on March 16Although this proposed “Safety Continuum” policy had been previously tied to the industry/association white paper on Singleā€Engine IFR Certification described below, there is essentially no relief in the proposed policy that would that permit the cost-effective equipage and training for IFR operations in single engine helicopters, and thus is projected to have an insignificant impact on avoiding accidents due to flights into an inadvertent Instrument Meteorological Condition (IMC). 

This AHS letter was developed after careful study of the proposed policy. We believe that the Safety Continuum approach holds great promise for improved safety. We look forward to further dialogue with the Rotorcraft Directorate and hope that the final policy will consider the feedback on how to still accomplish the original industry and association goal of saving lives.

An article on the FAA's proposed policy was published in the May/June 2017 issue of Vertiflite magazine: FAA Proposes New Part 27 Categories [pdf]


Bell 407GX cockpit (Bell photo)On July 12, 2015, a coalition of helicopter manufacturers, operators and associations – namely the General Aircraft Manufacturers Association, AHS International, Aircraft Electronics Association, and the Helicopter Association International – made public a White Paper which details the safety case for easing the process for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) certification for single engine rotorcraft.

The White Paper was officially submitted to the FAA Rotorcraft Directorate on November 18. There was broad consensus throughout the rotorcraft industry and operational community that equipage and training for IFR operations in single engine helicopters has the potential to make a significant impact on safety. [Download the White Paper.] 

In the cover letter to Rotorcraft Directorate Manager Lance Gant, the four associations concluded, “We view the White Paper and the resulting ability to certify single-engine helicopters for IFR operations in a cost effective manner as the first step towards a cultural shift in the helicopter community toward greater operational use of IFR by trained and proficient pilots.  We look forward to working with the FAA to improve the future of rotorcraft safety through this initiative and anticipate productive dialogue in the coming months.”

Key to the White Paper is the recognition of the dramatic technological leaps that have been made over the past 15 years that was not accounted for in the Advisory Circular currently governing the certification process (AC27). The White Paper outlines a generic means of compliance with 14 CFR 27 that will provide an avenue for rotorcraft-use of proven and appropriately adapted airplane safety technology.

WAAS-GPS — the Wide Area Augmentation System is an air navigation aid developed by the FAA to augment the Global Positioning System — has paved the way for point-in-space helicopter-specific instrument approach procedures and low-level IFR routing. Newly certified advanced digital autopilots and stability systems along with modern glass cockpits have dramatically reduced pilot workload and increased situational awareness. Combined with inherit digital system redundancy and integrity monitoring, these advances represent a potential paradigm-shift in the future of vertical flight operations.

The coalition asserts that leveraging these developments to improve the IFR certification process will help enable the production of training and entry level IFR rotorcraft. This is seen as a primary and fundamental first step towards changing the helicopter culture to one where trained and proficient pilots choose the safety of IFR operations over Visual Flight Rules (VFR) operations in less-than-VFR weather conditions.

July 2016 FAA Response

In a letter from the FAA dated July 25, 2016, the agency responded to the joint HAI-AHS-GAMA-AEA white paper that had been submitted in Nov. 2015. The white paper was a proposal for "an alternate acceptable means of compliance with Part 27 as it pertains to the IFR certification of single engine rotorcraft."

In its response, the FAA noted that it had "has begun the process of adopting some of the concepts and recommendations of the whitepaper into a proposed Safety Continuum for Part 27 Systems and Equipment Policy Statement." The letter noted that this safety continuum "will establish classes of Part 27 rotorcraft based on aircraft weight and passenger capacity for rotorcraft up to 7,000 pounds." Most promising was the regulatory agency's outlook that the continuum would "facilitate a more rapid incorporation of advances in technology for systems and equipment by recognizing a balanced approach between the risk and safety benefits for installing such technology."

The joint industry association team applauded the FAA's progress in its press release: Industry Welcomes FAA Response to Call for Alternate Means of Rotorcraft Compliance, Aug. 24, 2016. 

AHS International hopes that the final Policy Statement will incorporate all of the critical recommendations of the white paper to reduce accidents.

Summary/Further Reading:

Updated March 16, 2017