Fairbanks, Alaska-based Wright Air Service flies a variety of aircraft on charter flights to remote locations in the interior of Alaska. Among its fleet of 21 aircraft are four Helio Courier H-295s.
Years ago, Wright modified the engines on two of its Helios. The modifications were field approved by the FAA. Since then, those two Helios have more than 22,000 hours of operating experience.
Over the last decade or so, the FAA has tightened the requirements for obtaining a field approval or stopped issuing them altogether.
With a desire to modify the two additional Helios, Wright hired Momentum Aeronautics of Saint Paul, Minnesota, to complete two supplemental type certificates (STCs) for the H-295.
The project was unique because of the old field approvals Wright Air Service obtained. The company wished to use much of the existing data and experience to get STCs for these modifications.
The advantage of getting an STC to modify aircraft is that once a company obtains a specific STC, the same modifications can be done to multiple aircraft without approving each modification individually. Additionally, the STC process ensures that the installation has passed scrutiny by the certification branch of the FAA.
Wright already had the design work complete, obviously. And 22,000-plus operational hours speaks volumes — or it should.
And here’s where the FAA exhibited a willingness to walk its talk when it comes to encouraging the industry to deliver improvements to the aviation marketplace. You know, that whole Part 23 rewrite thing…
Wright’s extensive experience with this Helio modification allowed Momentum Aeronautics to save a lot of effort to meet FAA requirements. For example, the FAA agreed no testing was required because of Wright’s extensive time spent in the airplane with existing field approvals. Often the FAA will tell STC applicants that service data is not compliance data, but in this case the FAA took a much more measured approach considering the magnitude of time on the installation.
The news release from Momentum Aero says, “Essentially, we got lucky.” Perhaps. But as the quote goes “The harder I work, the luckier I seem to be.”
For sure, both Wright and Momentum put in a lot of work to comply with the FAA process. But the easiest thing for any FAA employee is to follow the rules, to the letter.
Marry Wright and Momentum’s existing hard work with the Part 23 rewrite and I believe this FAA “flexibility” is a prime example of a desired result.
“The FAA Aircraft Certification Office staff in Alaska was great to work with on this project,” said Kyle Taylor, an aeronautical engineer for Momentum Aeronautics. “But we also worked hard to make it easy for them to say yes.”
The FAA gets beat up — a lot — by those of us not on the FAA payroll. Oftentimes, the agency deserves it. But when FAA officials play a part in making something better — and in this case, walking their talk— we must say well done.
So… FAA, well done. And I’ll go a step further and say Thank You.