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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Indonesia Joins Bell 429 Weight Club; FAA Re-Examines Regs

Comments accepted through May 23 on FAA docket related to restructuring Parts 27 and 29.

By Andrew Parker, Editor-in-Chief

Bell Helicopter has earned Indonesian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) approval to increase the maximum gross weight of the 429 to 7,500 lbs. The 500-lb increase is based on Transport Canada’s certification of the weight boost tracing back to December 2011. Indonesia becomes the 17th country to approve the exception, joining five others in Southeast Asia/Oceania and five nations in South America, in addition to Canada, China, India, Israel, Mexico and Nigeria.
 
Missing from the list is the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which denied the weight increase in mid-2012, and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In turning down an exception request to 14 CFR section 27.1(a), FAA noted that the increase would create an “economic advantage” for the 429 versus other competitors in the category that are restricted to 7,000 lbs. (The 429’s primary competition is the Eurocopter EC145 and MD902.) Bell’s position is that raising the weight limit would allow operators to install additional safety equipment, carry more cargo/payload and fly at longer ranges, among other options.
 
 
Mercy One Bell 429 at Heli-Expo. Photos by Frank Lombardi
 
During an exclusive interview with Rotor & Wing in March, Bell Helicopter President & CEO John Garrison explained that the company appealed the decision and is in the process of re-applying for the exception. The situation has also caused FAA to step back and look at the wider issue of regulations governing Parts 27 and 29.
 
The deadline for comments to the Bell 429 weight increase from operators, OEMs and other interested parties is Wednesday, April 17. “We’re confident that there will be a lot of views that support the position of increased weight,” Garrison said. “The aircraft has demonstrated the ability to operate safely and effectively at that increased gross weight with 16 countries [now 17] around the world, so it really comes down to granting some level of exemption, and how that can be done within the current rules and structures,” he continued. “We’re proceeding down that path, and working with FAA on that.”
 
 
Bell 429 cockpit on display in Las Vegas.
 
Subsequently, he added, the first go-around caused FAA to “step back and say, ‘Wait a second, we need to look at the overall rule structure for Part 27 and Part 29, and so they opened a docket for industry comment” on future rotorcraft airworthiness standards and safety levels. FAA is accepting comments on the Part 27/29 restructuring through May 23. Believing it’s time to take another look, Bell is “going to support that effort to analyze the rules, and [whether] they are driving safety enhancements and technology into the platforms to improve the overall capabilities of the aircraft,” Garrison said.
 
Back in 2012 when first hearing about the denial, Bell was “very disappointed,” Garrison explained, because FAA “didn’t take any exception to the safety analysis, it was really based around a rule, which they even acknowledged that in the end, [the competition argument] was very weak, as Eurocopter enjoys about an 80 percent market share in that segment.”
 
Garrison noted that EASA is waiting to see what happens with FAA. “We have to apply separately, and they haven’t formally approved it or disapproved it. Transport Canada has, but we were trying to get the FAA first and then work on the EASA side.”
 
EMS interior in the Bell 429.
 
 
Countries With Approved Bell 429 Weight Increase
 
Argentina
Australia
Brazil
Canada
Chile
China
Ecuador
India
Indonesia
Israel
Malaysia
Mexico
New Zealand
Nigeria
Thailand
Venezuela
Vietnam
 
Related: Airframe News
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