The Operational Control Issue

Operational control of the aircraft for FAR Part 135 charter operators has been a hot topic in recent years. Michael Grossman, a long-time operator and industry activist, shares his thoughts on the issue.

DALLAS — In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to address concerns it has related to transparency of ownership and operational control of aircraft used under FAR Part 135. The initiative gained momentum following a National Transportation Safety Board recommendation after a 2004 Challenger crash in Montrose, CO and a subsequent Challenger overrun at Teterboro, NJ in 2005. Michael Grossman, owner of passenger and cargo firms based in Akron, OH, has been integrally involved in industry activities related to anticipated rules changes for charter firms. He says the current operational control debate isn’t about making new rules, it’s about enforcing and implementing what’s already in place.

Grossman began hauling cargo 23 years ago and moved into passenger charter after 9/11, due to the decline in the U.S. auto industry and to the increase in charter activity. He has been actively involved in the charter committee of the National Air Transportation Association and today sits on its Board of Directors. He has also been a participant in the industry rulemaking advisory committee which has been considering recommendations for Part 135 regulation for some three years.

He operates cargo and passenger charter today under parent company Castle Aviation, and operates a fixed base operation, Castle Airport Services, at the Akron-Canton Regional Airport.

He sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS during February meetings here for NATA to discuss the debate over operational control and other Part 135 charter issues. Here’s an edited transcript ...

AIRPORT BUSINESS: How much has adding passenger charter impacted your business?

Grossman: That is our biggest growth area today. We’ve put more planes into service. After 9/11 it was only eight percent of our overall dollars; today it’s significantly more.

We have not added any more cargo airplanes. In fact, we’ve taken the Grand Caravan that we lease and have started doing passenger charter with it because we’ve had a request. I had three airplanes in 2001 that did passenger charter; today I have six — two Aerostars; the Grand Caravan; a Cheyenne II; a C-J; and a Beechjet 400A. The cargo fleet has five dedicated Caravans and one dedicated Aerostar in freight, and the Grand Caravan goes both ways.

AB: Regarding the issue of operational control, didn’t the industry already have this discussion back in the late 1980s?

Grossman: Yes. But in the late ‘80s there weren’t many brokers. Today, we have thousands of brokers. Actually, as an operator, when I have a customer but don’t have an airplane then what do I do? I put on my broker hat and I find my customer the airplane he needs. So, I do the same thing, and it’s up to me to tell the customer who is the operator of the airplane. I can’t tell the customer that it’s my airplane. That’s what they’re trying to stop.
AB: Broad brush, do you see this as something that even needs discussing? Or is genuinely a serious issue?

Grossman: I’m going to say ‘yes’, it’s a serious issue. Should it be? I’m going to tell you ‘no’.

It shouldn’t be a serious issue because the rules and regulations have been in place. We’re not getting any new regulation here; we’re getting operations specifications, which is clarifying the regulations. It has two causes: operators haven’t been doing it right; and the FAA has not been enforcing it right.

So, we had a couple of plane accidents and this operational control issue surfaced; the broker issue came to light. All of a sudden people in Washington are screaming we have to do something. Well, this is their answer.

Basically what they’re doing is tightening the belts. They have some very strong ground rules. The ops specs are coming out and they’re giving us 60 days to comply with them. It’s somewhat unprecedented, because we’re supposed to be complying with them already.

AB: And what will you have 60 days to put in place?

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