Spotlight on Aerlex Law Group—Air Carrier Certification, Operation & Compliance
Previous Spotlight articles have focused on Aerlex’s aircraft transactional practice, federal aviation regulation, tax services and litigation. This article continues our profile of the firm’s comprehensive services with a look at our certification, operations and compliance services.
Aerlex Certification & Compliance Expert Bob Frost, Paralegal Susan Orozco-Neu and Attorney Craig Weller
Aerlex is one of the few law firms in the entire country able to assist clients in obtaining certification from the United States Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) under various parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FAR”), including certification under FAR Part 135 as an on-demand air carrier.
Once an air carrier is certified, Aerlex is also able to provide continued oversight of the carrier’s operations, as well as advice on regulatory compliance issues. Attorneys Stephen Hofer and Craig Weller provide legal guidance in this field, while much of the exacting field work is performed by Aerlex’s Certification and Compliance Consultant, Robert Frost. Bob has spent more than 45 years in the aviation industry and his impressive résumé includes lengthy stints as a commercial and corporate pilot, an FAR Part 121 (airline) Chief Pilot, Part 135 Director of Operations, and an aviation safety inspector with the FAA.
FAA certification can be a challenging and time-consuming process. Aerlex’s goal is to qualify a company for certification as expeditiously as possible, while also achieving the highest degree of operational safety. Aerlex has helped many clients through the entire five-phase certification process, including pre-application, formal application, preparation of required manuals and other documents, demonstration and inspection, and final certification. Once the five phases have been completed, the operator will be in full FAA compliance and certified to conduct on-demand air carrier and charter operations.
“It’s important to understand that every certification situation is unique,” Bob Frost explained. “The time required to complete the process can vary depending on FAA office workload, the operator’s management capabilities, flight crew qualifications, and the condition of the aircraft that are going to be placed on the operator’s certificate.”
Aerlex President Stephen Hofer pointed out that his colleague, attorney Craig Weller, was actually a member of the FAA team that wrote the current air carrier certification rules set forth in FAR Part 119 that govern both scheduled (Part 121) and on-demand (Part 135) carriers. “The fact that Aerlex has two former FAA employees on staff, Craig Weller and Bob Frost, gives Aerlex a unique and informed perspective on the FAA certification and regulatory process,” Hofer added. “These gentlemen can tell you not just what the rule says, but how the FAA is likely to interpret and apply it.”
Once a company is certified as an on-demand charter operator, Aerlex can provide oversight for the carrier’s continued operations, including liaison with the FAA, production of additional optional manuals and programs, crisis management, aircraft maintenance and large inspections. It’s worth noting that Aerlex also provides these services to companies that manage their own aircraft, as well as clients who utilize third-party management companies. The firm can also assist with flight department management matters and recruiting of pilots and other personnel.
U.S. law does not permit the sale of air carrier certificates. That being said, it is legal for an existing carrier to sell its entire business, and the certificate that goes with it, to a new owner. Some Aerlex clients employ the firm to look for opportunities to acquire existing certificate holders rather than starting the certification process from scratch. “The decision on whether to apply for your own certificate or acquire someone else’s always involves weighing the pros-and-cons,” said Stephen Hofer. “It’s generally cheaper to obtain your own certificate and you start operations with a clean slate, but it can be time-consuming process and some clients are willing to take the risk of acquiring existing companies so long as they are satisfied with the results of their due diligence investigation. We help clients weigh those choices and we can assist them whichever path they choose.”
There are other types of FAA certificates as well and Aerlex works with clients operating under several different parts of the FAR, including Part 121 (scheduled carriers, i.e., airlines) Part 125 (large aircraft, private carriage), Part 133 (rotorcraft), Part 137 (agricultural operations) Part 141 (pilot schools), Part 145 (aircraft maintenance and repair stations) and Part 147 (aviation maintenance technician schools).
Another service that Aerlex offers to Part 135 air carriers is the availability of paralegal Susan Orozco-Neu, who has been approved by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) to serve as a Security Coordinator. We will describe Susan’s TSA duties in more detail in a future Aerlex e-blast, but they include checking the identification information for passengers on all charter flights to confirm they are not on a TSA no-fly list and may legally fly.