The following information is summarized from FAA Advisory Circular 120-49, Certification of Air Carriers.
Part 135 charter operators are technically referred to as air carriers, and therefore if you plan to apply for Part 135 authorization, you will need to comply with this process.
The certification process is designed to ensure that prospective air carrier certificate holders are capable of conducting operations with the highest degree of safety.
There are five phases to the certification process:
- Formal Application
- Document Compliance
- Demonstration and Inspection
You should contact the appropriate FAA office well in advance of the date when you want to start operations. You will be invited to view an orientation video at the FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). During this initial preapplication meeting, basic information and and general certification requirements will be discussed.
If you decide to proceed with certification, you will need to submit FAA Form 8400-6, Preapplication Statement of Intent (PASI). Once this form has been submitted to the FSDO, your name will be placed in line for a formal application meeting. This can occur very soon, or may take weeks or months, depending on the workload of that FAA office.
The purpose of the preapplication meeting, and any additional meetings prior to the formal application meeting is to ensure that you fully understand the certification process and all requirements that will need to be met.
While waiting for your formal application meeting, the FAA will assign principal inspectors to meet with you and serve as the certification team to review and direct the certification process. You should use this period to develop the manuals and documents you will need to submit. The FAA inspectors will provide you with some materials to help you meet these requirements.
This is the time to begin assembling the documents that you will submit at the formal application meeting. This can include:
- Formal Application Letter
- Company General Operations Manual
- Letter of Compliance
- Training Program
- Resumes of key management personnel
- Aircraft information
- Insurance information
- Alcohol and drug testing plan
- Other documents describing or supporting the application
FORMAL APPLICATION PHASE
It is recommended that you submit the formal application at least 90 days before revenue operations are expected to begin, although the application should be submitted to the FAA as far in advance of the proposed start up date as possible. From a practical standpoint, it can take several months to complete the entire certification process, and in some cases, can take over one year from initial submission of the PASI to the beginning of revenue operations. Beginning the process as soon as practical will help you meet your goals.
Once the formal application and the required attachments are fully developed, deliver the formal application package to your assigned FSDO.
The FSDO will perform a basic review of the application to determine that it contains the required information and attachments. If there are omissions or errors, the FAA may request additional information or documents, or return the attachment with a letter explaining the reasons for its return. If you have a good understanding of the requirements, your formal application package should be of sufficient quality to allow any deficiencies or questions to be resolved during the formal application meeting.
The formal application meeting should be attended by all of the applicant’s key management personnel. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the formal application and resolve any deficiencies or other issues. The schedule of certification events will be discussed to ensure that it is feasible.
The FAA will notify you by letter whether the formal application is accepted or rejected. The acceptance does not mean that the individual documents and manuals in the application package are accepted or approved at this point. Acceptance simply means that the package as a whole contains the required items, and that the initial review of these items indicates that they are of good enough quality to be inspected more thoroughly.
DEMONSTRATION AND INSPECTION PHASE
FAA regulations Part 135 requires you to demonstrate the ability to comply with regulations and safe operating practices before beginning actual revenue operations. These demonstrations include actual performance of activities and/or operations while being observed by FAA inspectors. This may include onsite evaluations of aircraft maintenance equipment and support facilities.
During this phase, the FAA will be evaluating the effectiveness of your policies and procedures as described in your manuals and other documents. It is crucial that each person participating in this stage be thoroughly knowledgeable and proficient on their duties.
The FAA will be especially focused on how effective your key management personnel are in executing their job functions.
Any deficiencies will be brought to your attention by the FAA inspectors and you will be required to take corrective action before a certificate is issued.
Although the document compliance phase and the demonstration and inspection phase have been discussed separately, in practice these phases usually overlap to some degree, or may be accomplished simultaneously.
The following list provides examples of the types of items, equipment, facilities, and activities evaluated during the demonstration and inspection phase.
- Conduct of training and testing (classroom, simulators, aircraft)
- Station facilities (equipment, procedures, and personnel)
- Record keeping procedures (flight and duty times, training, etc.)
- Operational Control (dispatch or flight following or flight locating)
- Maintenance and inspection programs (procedures, record keeping, training)
- Maintenance facilities (personnel, procedures, technical information, parts, etc.)
- Aircraft (conformity inspection, aircraft maintenance records, etc.)
- MELs and CDLs (compliance with operating and maintenance procedures)
- Weight and balance program (procedures, accuracy, and document control)
After the document compliance and demonstration and inspection phases have been completed satisfactorily, the FAA office will prepare an air carrier certificate and approve your operations specifications. The operations specifications (opspecs) contain authorizations, limitations, and provisions specific to an your operation. You must also provide the FAA office with a copy of the OST written economic authority.
As a certificate holder, you are responsible for continued compliance with the federal aviation regulations and the authorizations, limitations, and provisions of your air carrier certificate and operations specifications. As your operation changes, your operations specifications will be amended accordingly.
The process for amending operations specifications is similar to the certification process, but may be a less complex process depending on the type of change to your operation.
Additionally, the FAA is responsible for conducting periodic inspections of your operation to ensure continued compliance with regulations and safe operating practices.