So, You Want to Be an Airline?

July 1, 2000

So, You Want to Be an Airline?

By Jack Hessburg

July 2000

Jack Hessburg has over 40 years experience in aircraft maintenance. He is recently retired from The Boeing Co. where he served as Chief Mechanic. Hessburg holds an A&P certificate and a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

You just can't go out, buy an airplane, call yourself an airline and start to sell tickets. Just like airplanes, you have to get yourself certified. Three pieces of paper, all independent of each other, are needed: an economic certificate, operating certificate, and operations specifications. If any one of the three is missing, you cease to be an airline.

Economic certification

Until airline deregulation in the late 1970s, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) economically regulated airlines. They determined what city pairs given carriers could serve, what routes to fly, and what they could charge. After deregulation, the CAB died. To say that the industry was completely deregulated isn't quite accurate. Instead of the highly regulated route-awarding environment under the old CAB, the system was replaced by a greatly less regulated approach administered by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Today, an applicant for an economic certificate must demonstrate that he is "fit, willing, and able." Three conditions determine this. First, the applicant must demonstrate he has sufficient business and aviation experience to operate an airline competently. Second, the applicant must demonstrate adequate operating and financial resources. And third, he must show that key personnel do not have a history of safety violations and consumer fraud that pose a threat to the traveling public.

The DOT Air Carrier Fitness Division reviews the application. Interested individuals have an opportunity to file comments with the department to show cause why the department should or should not adopt its proposed fitness determination and award a certificate. If no substantive objections are given, the DOT awards the applicant a certificate. The certificate may have limitations attached to it as to the type of service or the number and type of aircraft which may be used. If the application is to provide service to a foreign location, the final decision to grant or deny authority is with the president of the United States.

Operating certification

Technical regulation is the responsibility of the Federal Aviation Administration. They issue Operating Certificates and Operations Specifications.

FAR Part 119 defines the certification rules and identifies the operating rules through a set of applicability statements. Don't be confused by these. They simply define the criteria and the rules for a given type of activity. It is possible for a certificate holder to operate under more than one group of rules. The type of operations to be conducted, the areas of operation, type of airplanes operated, passenger seating capacity, and flight frequency determines the applicable operating rules. Air carrier operating certificates define the rules under which a certificate holder will operate. Operating rules include Domestic, Flag, Supplemental (FAR 121), Commuter, and On Demand Commercial (FAR 135).

Just like certifying an airplane, an applicant for an operating certificate must demonstrate conformity to the regulations under which he is to be certificated, for example FAR Part 121. This is an extremely detailed, costly, time-consuming project involving an explicit statement showing how the applicant conforms to each regulation. Further, he must show he has the right people, facilities, tooling, administrative systems, quality system, record systems and training programs. There is a requirement for a manual that must embody all of the details of policy, procedures and methods to be used for the maintenance of the aircraft.

After showing conformity to the regulations and producing the required manual(s), a series of demonstrations and tests must be completed. An evacuation demonstration must be conducted proving that the airplane occupants may exit the airplane in 90 seconds or less. If extended overwater operations are to be conducted, a ditching demonstration proving the operator's procedures must be conducted. Finally, the applicant must demonstrate his ability to operate and maintain the aircraft using his policy and procedures. This consists of satisfactorily conducting a series of proving flights over the routes and into the airports for which the applicant will be certificated. Fifty to 100 hours of proving flights must be conducted. When all of this work has been successfully completed the operations specifications will be issued.

Operations specifications

The third element of certification is the issuance of operations specifications. Until the early '50s, an operating certificate contained specific limitations on the conduct of operations. These limitations, now separate from the certificate for easier administration and control, are known as the operations specifications. The reason for them is quite simple. It is impractical to develop regulations that fit every conceivable environment, route and area of operations, operator experience and capability, maintenance facilities, and organizational structure. It is much more practical to customize the operating rules intent to a specific operator.

Operations specifications carry the full weight of regulation. They are not considered a part of the Operating Certificate, but you may not conduct operations without them. In practice, the operations specifications are what makes you an airline.

They define the way the airline will conduct its flight and maintenance operations, defining specific requirements and limitations. One of the most interesting items on the list is the ability for the FAA to require "Whatever the Administrator Wants" to the Operations Specifications contents. It is an interesting item when you think about it. What this means is that the Op Specs are a living document - as an air carrier's operation changes, the operations specifications will be amended accordingly. Operations specifications are divided into six parts. Part D outlines the maintenance program authorizations and limits including the following topics:

• Check, inspection, and overhaul time limits

• Use of an MEL

• Reliability program authorization

• Short term escalation authorization

• Maintenance contractual agreements

• Leased aircraft maintenance program

• Parts pool agreements

• Parts borrowing

• Special flight permit with continuing authorizations

• List of aircraft operated

• Approved aircraft inspection program

• Additional maintenance requirements.

These are the areas that you, being involved in maintenance, need to be familiar with.

Get to know them well, your airline will depend on it.