How to Start a Part 135 Operation From Scratch

So you’re not sure how to start a Part 135 operation, but ready to get started? This is an up to date guide on how to start a Part 135 operation from scratch. This will be a long and stressful process, so get a cup of coffee and get ready for the ride. The certification process is accomplished by completing a series of events and phases. You must demonstrate to the FAA that you can meet all certification and operational requirements. There are 5 official FAA phases that you must complete, but this list will be a lot more expansive. This video from the FAA explains the process:

 

Step 1: Define The Scope of your Part 135 Operation

Think about this for a moment: What are you planning on doing as a Part 135 operator?

This sounds like a simple task at first glance, but you really should plan out the scope of your entire operation. The FAA has two types of certificates they can issue to Part 135 operators, depending on the scope of the operation:

Air Carrier Certificate

An Air Carrier certificate is issued to an applicant that will conduct interstate, foreign, or overseas transportation, or will carry mail.

Operating Certificate

An Operating certificate is issued to an applicant that will conduct intrastate transportation, which is transportation that is conducted wholly within the same state of the United States.

Part 135 certificate holders can conduct On-demand operations, which may include limited scheduled operations, or Scheduled (Commuter) operations, which allow unlimited scheduled operations as well as On-demand operations. Each kind of operation, On-demand or Commuter, has specific limitations associated with them. These include the number of passenger seats that can be installed on the aircraft, maximum payload limits, and whether turbo-jet aircraft can be used in that kind of operation.

On Demand

On-demand operations can be conducted in airplanes that have a passenger seating configuration of 30 seats or less, a maximum payload capacity of 7500 pounds, or in any rotorcraft. On-demand certificate holders can also conduct limited scheduled operations with the following additional restrictions:

  • Less than 5 round trips per week on at least one route between two or more points according to published flight schedules
  • No turbo-jet airplanes can be used
  • Airplanes are limited to a maximum passenger seating configuration of 9 seats or less

    Commuter

    Commuter operations may be conducted in airplanes which have a maximum passenger-seating configuration of 9 seats and a maximum payload capacity of 7500 pounds, or in any rotorcraft. Commuter operations cannot be conducted in any turbo-jet aircraft. A certificate holder with Commuter authority can also conduct On-demand operations.

An example of a commuter operation would be SurfAir, who operates several schedule flights per week in turboprop aircraft. The majority of Part 135 operators in the United States operate under On Demand operations.

Narrowing Down The Scope of Your Operation

The scope of your operation will be further defined through Operation Specifications, commonly called Ops Specs, which are issued by the FAA. They essentially tell you what you can and cannot do.  There are 4 scopes of operations, as defined by the FAA.

135 Single Pilot

A single-pilot operator is a certificate holder that is limited to using only one pilot for all part 135 operations. That specific pilot is listed by name and certificate number on the FAA issued Operations Specification (OpSpec) A040. The use of any pilot(s) other than the single pilot listed on OpSpec A040 is not authorized. In general, the regulations do not require a single-pilot operator to develop and maintain manuals or training programs, designate a Director of Operations, Chief Pilot, or a Director of Maintenance. However, they are required to designate the management officials responsible for operational control and to provide a Hazardous Materials (HazMat) training program.

135 Single Pilot in Command

A single Pilot In Command (PIC) operator is a certificate holder that is limited to using only one PIC and up to a maximum of 3 Second In Command (SIC) pilots for all part 135 operations. The PIC and the SIC(s) are listed by name and certificate number on the FAA issued OpSpec A039. The certificate holder is only authorized to use those pilots in the specific duty positions listed in OpSpec A039. The certificate holder is not authorized to use any other pilots, nor are any pilots allowed to serve in a duty position (PIC or SIC), unless they are listed in that duty position in OpSpec A039. Single PIC certificate holders have limitations on the size of aircraft and the scope of operations that are allowed, which include:

      • Aircraft are limited to those type certificated with 9 passenger seats or less,
      • Operations are limited to the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean,
      • No Category II or Category III instrument approach operations are allowed.

Although required by regulation, deviations can be granted for a required manual, training programs, and certain management positions.

135 Basic

A 135 Basic operator is a certificate holder whose operation is also limited in the size and scope of their operations. They have the following limitations:

      • Maximum of five pilots, including SIC’s,
      • Maximum of 5 aircraft can be used in their operation,
      • Maximum of 3 different types of aircraft can be used,
      • Aircraft are limited to those type certificated with 9 passenger seats or less,
      • Operations are limited to the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean,
      • No Category II or Category III instrument approach operations are allowed.

Part 135 Basic operators are required to develop and maintain manuals, training programs, and have the required management positions. However, due to the limited size and scope of these certificate holders, specific limited deviations to those requirements may be authorized by the FAA.

Standard Part 135

A standard part 135 operator is a certificate holder that does not have pre-set limits on the available size or scope of their operations. The applicant must apply, qualify, and be granted FAA authorization thru OpSpecs for each type of operation they wish to conduct. Standard Part 135 operators are required to develop and maintain manuals, training programs, and have the required management positions.

As your business evolves, it might make sense to change the scope of the operation. There is an abbreviated process for doing so, so you aren’t necessarily locked into a certain scope of operation.

Step 2: Source an Aircraft

Wouldn’t it be great if you had an aircraft ready to go?

If not, you will need to have a suitable aircraft ready for certification. It can be purchased, or leased from another entity, but you cannot begin the process without having an aircraft. Operating an aircraft under Part 135 could have significant advantages to someone who already owns an aircraft. Charter revenue can potentially offset some of the aircraft owner’s operating expenses. Operational control of the aircraft must be established and maintained by the Part 135 certificate holder, however.

Step 3: Setup a Pre-Application Meeting with the FSDO

You know the feeling. Sweaty palms, your heart pounding, knees shaking. You now have to meet with a Fed. Don’t worry, they’re here to help!

The first official phase of the certification process with the FAA starts with a pre-application meeting with the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).The FSDO FAA certification team will consist of a maintenance inspector, avionics inspector, and operations inspector. You will meet the Certification Project Manager, or CPM, who will be your main point of contact throughout the process. All management personnel and anyone who will have operational control will need to attend this meeting.

The FAA team will review each phase that is involved in the process and provide a pre-application package that will help complete all of the required certification events in a timely manner. This is where you will apply for your Ops Specs that will apply to your operation. The whole idea of the meeting is to define everyone’s responsibilities, and determine a reasonable time frame to complete the certification process.

Step 4: Complete a Pre-Application Statement of Intent Form

Fact: You need to formally announce your intention to become a Part 135 operator

You will need to complete FAA Form 8400-6, which informs the FAA of your intent to obtain a Part 135 certificate. You will list all potential management personnel, as well as define the scope of your operation, as stated above. If you have any questions about this document, contact your CPM immediately! Time is of the essence, and incorrectly submitting this form could be disastrous for your certification.

Step 5: Complete the Formal Application Phase

So you’ve let the FAA know that you are ready to become a Part 135 operator. Good for you! The bad news is that the difficult part now begins.

Using the information you received during your pre-application meeting, you will gather the required documents and complete the required forms and submit a form application to the FSDO. You should work with your assigned Certification Project Manager to ensure compliance before submitting your formal application. This is a mountain of paperwork. You will get buried in paper. That’s OK, though, everyone does. My suggestion is to have 3-4 people proofread every single document that you plan on submitting. Catch any errors before submitting them to the FAA.

Step 6: Complete the Design and Performance Assessment Phase

At this point, you realize it is all coming together. You’ve dug yourself out of the paperwork grave and now see light at the end of the tunnel. You feel like Andy Dufresne from the Shawshank Redemption.

Starting a Part 135 Operation

This phase begins while your documents are being processed. The FAA will determine whether your operation complies with Part 135 of the Federal Regulations through a series of on-site inspections. An operations inspector will evaluate pilot competency through proficiency flight checks. An airworthiness inspector will also ensure that your maintenance facility and inspect aircraft for compliance.

135 Certification

This form, found in the FAA FSIMS 8900.1 Volume 2, helps to show the process through a flow chart. This document is very import, as it give you an inside look at what the FAA expects from your operation.

This task may seem daunting at first, and the overall process can take a lot of time. You will get frustrated, nervous, and it will consume most your free time, but you can do it. The biggest issue is completing the paperwork properly and reviewing it multiple times before submitting it. Your application can be rejected if the documents aren’t submitted properly.

Be sure and comment below so I can get some feedback on how the process worked for you.