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New Helicopter Rules

New Rules for (Some!) Non-Commercial Helicopter Operators

With evermore yachts being built or refit with some kind of helideck or ‘touch & go’ helipad, helicopter operations on board yachts are becoming much more prevalent.  As the yachts become larger and with the appetite for explorer yachts and support vessels seemingly growing unabated, there also appears to be an upwards trend for yachts to have their own helicopter.

Introducing Part-NCC

The rules for the operation and management of helicopters are dependent on many factors, including where the helicopter is registered and what it will be used for.  Operators of commercial helicopters, such as helicopter charter companies, require an Air Operator Certificate (AOC), which is only granted once the operator has demonstrated it has the personnel, assets and systems in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public.

Until now, non-commercial helicopters, such as those used for private helicopter operations on superyachts, have been largely unaffected by the regulations governing commercial operations.  For some privately-owned helicopters, however, this is about to change.  With effect from 25th August 2016, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will require qualifying non-commercial aircraft operators to comply with new air operations regulations, known as ‘Part-NCC’. 

Part-NCC refers to the part of the EASA regulations governing non-commercial complex aircraft operations.  It requires each operator to adhere to the same essential requirements as commercial air transport operators and is effectively a ‘mini-AOC’.

Who will be affected by Part-NCC?

Part-NCC will apply to helicopters which are:

·         Registered in the EU, or

·         Operated by a EU resident (person), or

·         Operated by a company established in the EU

This means that the regulation will apply equally to foreign-registered aircraft operated by EU operators and EU-registered aircraft operated by foreign operators. 

Part-NCC will affect non-commercial operators of aircraft classed as Complex Motor-Powered Aircraft (CMPA), which, in the case of helicopters, are those certificated for:

·         A maximum take-off mass exceeding 3175 kg, or

·         A maximum passenger seating configuration of more than nine, or

·         Operation with a minimum crew of at least two pilots

Examples of common helicopter types found on superyachts which are likely to be classified as CMPA, include the Airbus Helicopters H145, Bell 412 and Leonardo (formerly AgustaWestland) AW169.

In practice, Part-NCC is going to affect operators of larger helicopter types registered in an EU country or operated by an EU company.  A realistic yachting example is an Isle of Man (M-registered) H145, operated by a UK-based company, which would fall under the Part-NCC regulations but an M-registered H135 operated by the same UK-based company, would not.

What are the requirements of Part-NCC for helicopter operators?

Many of the changes introduced by Part-NCC reflect organisational requirements and will be dealt with in the background by the helicopter operator.  Some of these will be familiar to yacht Captains and managers for the operation of yachts, such as the need for a suitable management system. 

In order for Part-NCC operators to comply with the helicopter management system requirements, a number of elements will need to be in place.  The complexity of the system will be proportionate to the helicopter operation but will include:

  • An ‘Accountable Manager’, responsible for financing the operation and accountable for safety
  • A safety policy and safety risk assessment processes, i.e. a Safety Management System (SMS)
  • Trained and competent personnel including ‘nominated persons’, who are responsible for managing safety and compliance-monitoring
  • Documentation, including an operations manual and a records system
  • A compliance monitoring system

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How will Part-NCC affect superyacht helicopter operations?

Although it is difficult to predict how the Part-NCC regulations may affect helicopter operations on board individual yachts, there are areas where the changes may influence helicopter operations on aviation-capable yachts generally.  One such example is pilot requirements, where Part-NCC will introduce a number of measures which will apply equally to ‘freelance’ pilots, perhaps such as those on rotation, as to those who are employed full-time with the operator. 

Under Part-NCC, European pilots, or pilots flying for a European operator, will be required to hold a European pilots’ licence.  This will be the case irrespective of whether the aircraft is registered in the EU or in a third country.  So, for instance, if a pilot held a United Stated Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) licence, they would need address this in order to comply with Part-NCC.

Part-NCC will also require operators to monitor pilots’ flight and duty times, to comply with a fatigue avoidance scheme.  The operations manual will describe the pilots’ Flight Time Limitations (FTLs) but should a pilot exceed, or be forecast to exceed, their FTLs, this could result in a non-conformity.  As many crew, including helicopter pilots, spend much time at standby, awaiting tasking by the owner, the introduction of Part-NCC could theoretically limit the availability of the helicopter if pilot FTLs are not managed appropriately.

Summary

The introduction of Part-NCC in August 2016 will not concern all aviation-capable superyachts but will undoubtedly affect some.  It is recommended that those who think they may be affected should seek professional advice to clarify their situation.  The regulations will introduce many new elements for affected operators and the earlier these are considered and managed, the less likely they are to impact helicopter operations on board. 

Where the new rules are applicable, compliance is vital.  In a way not dissimilar to Port State Control (PSC) inspections for ships, aircraft may be subject to airport ramp inspections.  Any Part-NCC operators who are found not to be in compliance with the new rules may find their helicopters grounded, with inevitable repercussions for the yacht and its owner. 

For more information on the above or helicopter training please visit http://www.mastconsultancy.com/ or email enquiries@mastconsultancy.com

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