Friday, March 1, 2013
Bell Continues to Seek FAA Approval for 429 Weight Increase
Bell claims granting the Bell 429 an exemption to raise MTOW to 7,500 lbs.
Bell Helicopter has submitted a “petition for reconsideration” to the U.S. FAA, the Bell 429 light twin should be allowed to operate at 7,500 lbs., instead of the FAR 27 limit of 7,000 lbs. According to the manufacturer, 14 countries have granted the requested exemption. The FAA and Europe’s EASA have not.
After the denial of exemption Bell received from the FAA in August, the company and the administration have “had a number of [constructive] conversations,” according to a Bell spokesperson. Moreover, the spokesperson deemed “positive” the FAA’s stated intent to consider increasing the maximum gross weight in FAR 27.
In its petition, Bell highlighted competition with the Eurocopter EC145. In the same weight category, just below 8,000 lbs., it is certified under FAR 29 rules. However, the model is “grandfathered on a 1983 type certificate and exempt from many of the latest Part 29 standards,” Bell claimed. Therefore, the EC145 meets less FAR 29 rules than the Bell 429, Bell contended. The 429 was designed as a FAR 27 helicopter with “further safety enhancements.” A Eurocopter official answers that rules are to be complied with and the EC145’s safety record is “exceptional.”
Among the countries that have exempted the Bell 429 are Australia, Brazil, Canada and China. For example, late in 2011, Transport Canada granted the exemption, providing some conditions are met. These include mandatory equipment—cockpit voice recorder/flight data recorder, helicopter terrain avoidance and warning system (HTAWS), radar altimeter, dual autopilot with coupled flight director capability (with a minimum three axis) and an “appropriate and effective” bird repellent device
On the contrary, in its August “denial of exemption,” the FAA did not buy into Bell’s arguments for safety and capability. “An early design consideration for a rotorcraft type certificate applicant is whether to design for compliance with Part 27 or Part 29,” the FAA reminded. The development and manufacturing costs of a rotorcraft depend on its type certification basis, it went on. The relief sought would, if granted, “put existing Part 29 rotorcraft manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage” because of the greater costs.
The FAA has based the distinction between normal and transport category (FAR 27 and FAR 29) rotorcraft certification requirements, in part, on the maximum certified gross weight of the aircraft. “The gross weight of aircraft provided a meaningful indication of the number of [occupants],” as well as complexity and performance, the FAA said. This is part of the FAA’s “fundamental philosophy.”
Therefore, to allow a rotorcraft to be certified at a higher weight than allowed by the regulations would undermine “the very philosophy that has served the United States aviation community,” the FAA wrote.
However, it is not against reconsidering the current gross weight limit of FAR 27. Comments did not indicate that the community at large believes the 7,000-lb. limit is inappropriate, the FAA said. Nevertheless, it will issue a notice to seek public input on this topic.
An EASA spokesman told Rotor & Wing that ongoing discussions on the Bell 429’s increased gross weight have “not succeeded yet.”—By Thierry Dubois, follow him on Twitter: @aero_dub