NATA Air Charter Summit Makes Return To Capital

Challenger 350
Credit: Airshare

The FAA’s certification pipeline, illegal charters, safety management systems, advanced air mobility and other topics of importance to Part 135 operators will be focus areas of the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) Air Charter Summit, which returns in June after several years’ absence.

The two-day summit begins June 21 with committee meetings and appointments with members of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. Informational sessions will be held June 22 at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center in National Harbor, Maryland.

A fireside chat with Carol “Annie” Petsonk, U.S. Department of Transportation assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, opens the second day of the summit, which NATA last held in 2014.

“There are multiple issues that are impacting and affecting the air charter world right now,” said Alan Stephens, NATA vice president of regulatory affairs. “We’re seeing it from multiple arenas, whether you’re talking about security, whether you’re talking about certification requirements from the FAA and its ability to handle that. Then, what does the future hold? We have a committee now [looking at] advanced air mobility (AAM). How does that tie into air charter?”

NATA named Stephens, former FAA Flight Standards Service acting deputy director of the Office of Air Carrier Safety Assurance, as vice president of regulatory affairs, last October. He brings an insider’s perspective to the workload the agency faces in processing air carrier and airmen certifications.

“The certification issue is a multifaceted issue that has two key parts—the certification part and the continued oversight of that certificate,” Stephens said. In the past, each region had various field offices, including Flight Standards District Offices (FSDO) and Certificate Management Offices (CMO), he explained. Under a reorganization in 2017, the FAA moved CMOs to the Office of Air Carrier Safety Assurance, which is focused on Part 121 certification and oversight activities, and FSDOs to the Office of General Aviation Safety Assurance. 

The challenge in providing ongoing oversight for check pilot and other requirements “focuses on trying to get the resource aligned with the requirement and getting [inspectors] in the right place at the right time,” Stephens said. “It’s very difficult for Flight Standards.”

A key legislative “ask” of Congress, Stephens said, is to require the Flight Standards Service to display certification metrics on a public-facing website. The NATA would also like to see the aircraft registry, which contains N-number-based ownership data, linked with the FAA’s Web-based Operations Safety System (WebOPSS), which keeps track of certification status. This would help prevent illegal charter operations by matching an aircraft with its Part 135 certification status. 

“If you had those two systems talking to each other and representing the information in a query-type format, the issue then becomes not whether or not there is illegal charter, it is whether or not [the customer] wants to roll the dice to fly on that airplane knowing it is an illegal charter,” Stephens said.

Caitlin Locke, FAA Flight Standards Service acting deputy executive director, is one of several senior FAA executives who will speak during the summit, along with NATA leadership and other expert presenters. Representatives of AAM vehicle developers Overair, Beta Technologies and Joby Aviation will also speak.

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, D.C., Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and unmanned aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.