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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Aftermarket: Caveat Emptor

Tyrone Millard

AN INCREASING NUMBER OF SURPLUS MILITARY helicopters are being sold by the U.S. military and foreign military organizations around the world. While these sales are beneficial to the seller, many of them bring a host of problems that the purchasers do not foresee, making the helicopter purchase anything but beneficial.

Before buying a helicopter that has been used in military operations, potential buyers should be aware of some issues that are plaguing the rotorcraft community concerning surplus military helicopters.

Most military surplus helicopters are older models that have a high number of flight hours, and are therefore no longer suitable for military operations. These helicopters are commonly sold through military sales auctions and are often purchased by aircraft brokers and dealers with the intention of reselling the helicopters. Prospective buyers and operators often purchase the helicopters believing that they are eligible for a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate.

Unfortunately, that is often not the case. To be eligible for a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate, the type design of the helicopter must meet specific FAA airworthiness standards and be approved by the FAA. Owners of FAA-approved type design data are issued FAA type certificates that list the helicopter model. If a type-certificated helicopter model conforms to that FAA-approved type design data and is shown by an FAA production approval holder to be in a condition that is safe for operation, the FAA can issue a standard airworthiness certificate for the helicopter.

Alternatively, the FAA can issue a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate for a helicopter produced by a foreign manufacturer that holds a production approval issued by the country of manufacture, provided the country of manufacture has a bilateral agreement with the U.S. regarding the exportation of helicopters to it. In such cases, the foreign manufacturer must satisfy the same conformity and condition requirements that FAA production approval holders must meet. Once that is accomplished, a helicopter can then be issued an Export Certificate of Airworthiness by the foreign country’s civil aviation authority. Based on the issuance of that document, the FAA can issue a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate for a helicopter. It is important to note that the Export Certificate of Airworthiness must include a certification statement that the helicopter meets (conforms to) its FAA-approved type design basis and is in a condition for safe operation.

Taking into consideration these processes, there are two major reasons why surplus military helicopters that have an FAA type-certificated model designation may not be eligible for a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate. First, the military version of the FAA type-certificated model may include modifications ordered by the military customer that were never approved by the FAA. Second, military helicopters are not under the jurisdiction of the FAA nor the foreign civil aviation authority. This means that helicopters being used by any military service are not required to be operated, inspected, maintained, repaired, and altered in accordance with the civilian aviation regulations that have been established to ensure the safe operation of civilian-use helicopters.

Potential buyers of surplus military helicopters need to ensure that the helicopter is eligible for a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate if they intend to operate the helicopter in the U.S. When purchasing such helicopters, make sure that the seller of the helicopter provides you with the required FAA or foreign civil aviation authority airworthiness documentation that is needed to obtain a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate.

For helicopters that have been operated by a U.S. military service, the documentation includes FAA Form 8130-2, "Conformity Certificate-Military Aircraft" (or equivalent airworthiness documentation, acceptable to the FAA, certifying that the helicopter conformed to the U.S. type design basis when delivered "new" to the military), signed and approved by the FAA. It also includes FAA Form 8130-10, "Surplus Military Aircraft Inspection Record," completed and signed by the FAA stating that the helicopter has a reasonable potential for issuance of a U.S. standard airworthiness certificate.

Helicopters that have been operated in a foreign military service must have an Export Certificate of Airworthiness certifying that the helicopter conforms to its FAA-approved type-design basis and is in a condition for safe operation.

A word of caution: in many instances, buyers have received an attestation from the foreign country’s civil aviation authority that is not an acceptable alternative to an Export Certificate of Airworthiness because the certification statement was not correct on the attestation. Typically, an attestation that is not acceptable will include a certification statement such as, "Although we have not inspected ourselves this aircraft, we can certify that its design was compliant with the FAA type certificate."

This statement is not acceptable by the FAA, since neither a conformity inspection of the helicopter with regard to the FAA-approved type-design basis nor a condition inspection of the helicopter for safe operation was performed by the foreign civil aviation authority. Several Eurocopter Alouette 2, Alouette 3, and Gazelle helicopters were issued attestations very similar to this that are not acceptable to the FAA.

Tyrone Millard is on the staff of the FAA Rotorcraft Directorate’s Standards Staff.

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