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Transport Canada imposes limitations on restricted aircraft operations

By Jen Boyer | June 3, 2024

Estimated reading time 9 minutes, 5 seconds.

Stephen Fochuk Photo

Transport Canada has issued a Civil Aviation Safety Alert (CASA) affecting all current and prospective operators of limited or restricted special certificate of airworthiness aircraft. For the helicopter industry, this primarily affects use of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and the Boeing CH-47 Chinook.

In the CASA, No. 2024-06, Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TC) announced no Special Certificate of Airworthiness – Limited (SCOA-L) applications will be accepted as of May 29, 2024, for any helicopter intended to operate under Canadian Air Regulations (CAR) Subpart 702 Aerial Work, in addition to any fixed-wing aircraft intended for use in aerial firefighting.

Additionally, the CASA announced additional interim role-specific operating conditions will immediately be attached to currently valid SCOA-Ls for commercially operated aircraft, as well as SCOA-Ls issued as a result of active applications. Those conditions were not released with the CASA and were not distributed to current SCOA-L operators when the CASA was released.

TC’s reasoning for the sudden halt and new restrictions stems from a concern over safety in aerial work operations. CAR 702 Aerial Work in general covers operations not focused on transporting people or cargo between locations and includes common helicopter operations such as firefighting and construction.

The CASA outlined: “There has been an increase in interest among Canadian commercial operators in using aircraft with a Special Certificate of Airworthiness – Limited in aerial work. This may represent a significant change in the risk environment.”

Issues around non-type certificated helicopters in Canada have abounded since these rotorcraft were allowed in Canada 2022. The exemption updates in 2022 allowed non-type certified helicopters, including ex-military helicopters from anywhere in the world, to be operated in Canada commercially once they met basic conditions. Proponents argued this move allowed for more aircraft to support pressing issues like increased firefighting demand, while opponents highlighted safety issues stemming from the aircraft not having gone through type certification, part tracking concerns, and unfair competition with certified helicopters that come at a higher price tag.

Helicopter Association Canada President Trevor Mitchell sees the CASA as an attempt to provide direction, though he sees the move as poorly timed.

“It’s really created a scenario where not only the type certified operators but the non-type certified operators are being impacted,” he said. “One or the other is impacted negatively by TC action or TC inaction. I think the big reason here is the aircraft don’t have type certificates. Type certificates require testing and certification documentation that allows you to know what the machine is made out of, its fatigue and structural cycling, etc. These non-type certificated aircraft are from the military and that information is not available. There is a question of safety. There is also concern over the lower price of these aircraft and them competing for the same jobs as fully certificated aircraft purchased at new prices.”

Currently very few aircraft with these certificates operate in Canada. Those that do had not received information on the new restrictions when the CASA was issued. Helicopter Transport Services HTS currently operates two Sikorsky S-70 Black Hawk helicopters under SCOA-Ls, and has not received any additional guidance on changes to operating conditions since the alert was published.

“HTS is disappointed in the recent CASA No. 2024-06, as no rationale was provided beyond a ‘change in the risk environment,’ and that the ongoing review of existing regulatory requirements does not warrant the decision to ‘cease to accept or consider new applications for issue of a Special Certificate of Airworthiness – Limited (SCOA-L),’ ” Helicopter Transport Services director of business development Carson Sutton shared in a written statement.

“We believe this decision is not in the best interest of the Canadian helicopter industry, as without any examples of specific safety-related issues the concern is that TC may have been influenced by operators simply wishing to block the introduction of new aircraft in the heavy-lift category to preserve the status quo and limit competition.”

Sutton emphasized in his statement his belief in the safety of the aircraft, highlighting that it is “a proven airframe trusted by 11 nations with over 10 million hours flown.”

Colin Pelton, president of Contour Helicopters in British Columbia, understands Sutton’s concern. Contour, which has already submitted applications to operate Black Hawks and is awaiting receipt of its certificate, also did not receive information on further restrictions from TC, but Pelton’s understanding is the restrictions are more about aligning with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Pelton hopes to start operating Contour’s aircraft this year.

The Black Hawks are operating in Canada under a variety of mechanisms. HAC has asked the regulator for more consistency and clarity going forward. Lloyd Horgan Photo

“Up until now, the few aircraft already operating on those certificates have been able to do all 702 work unrestricted, which includes movement of fire crews, firefighters, and those things as long as they fall under 702,” explained Pelton. “Under the CASA restrictions, operations would be limited to what the FAA currently limits for the aircraft.

“The sad thing is, Canada is behind the ball. The FAA is looking at loosening those restrictions a bit, especially allowing fire crew transport, which means Canada will be behind the ball if it is allowed in the U.S. but not in Canada. It’s too bad they’re not looking at the bigger picture and the safety record of these aircraft, because they’re imposing restrictions that I don’t think should be there due to the safety of the aircraft. There is no data to warrant the restrictions.”

While the CASA states no SCOA-Ls will be considered until further notice, Pelton isn’t too concerned. “There is a huge flurry of interest in bringing in non-type certified aircraft and I think that made them pause to develop a process. I think once Transport Canada comes up with a defined process for importing them, the door will open again.”

In terms of concerns over competition, Pelton disagrees. While he admits the purchase price of restricted aircraft can be lower than a new certificated aircraft, the amount of investment needed to bring the aircraft up to operating levels for a SCOA-L and the job requirements is significant.

“After all the investment, I could buy three medium Bells for the price of one Black Hawk,” he explained.

Skies contacted Transport Canada for comment, but had not received a response by the time this story was published.

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